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United States v. Stovall

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

September 14, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
NATHANIEL DEMON STOVALL

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Nathaniel Demon Stovall pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. He was sentenced to 84 months of imprisonment and eight years of supervised release. The question before the court is whether his sentence should be reduced based on Amendments 782 and 788 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. For the reasons that follow, the answer is yes.

         I.

         Stovall's original base offense level under United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual § 2D1.1 (Nov. 2013) (USSG) was 28. After a three-level downward adjustment for his acceptance of responsibility pursuant to USSG § 3E1.1, his total offense level before departures was 25. See Presentence Report (doc. no. 121) at 6; see also Statement of Reasons (doc. no. 126) at 1. Stovall's criminal history category was VI. The applicable Guidelines range was 110 to 137 months. See Sentencing Tr. (doc. no. 185) at 3. However, because a mandatory minimum of 120 months applied, his Guidelines range was ‘adjusted' to 120 to 137 months. See USSG § 5G1.1(c)(2).

         The court granted the government's motion for a three-level downward departure from the Guidelines range for substantial assistance pursuant to USSG § 5K1.1 and 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e). This downward departure reduced Stovall's total offense level to 22 and authorized the court to give a sentence below the mandatory minimum. The reduced Guidelines range was 84 to 105 months. This Guidelines range included the entirety of the applicable Guidelines range of 84 to 105 months and the mandatory minimum was not factored in to adjust, and narrow, this range as before; or, to put it another way, the court and the parties did not in any way tie the three-level reduction to the adjusted Guidelines range of 120 to 137 months. For example, the court did not impose an adjusted Guidelines range of 90 to 105 months to account for the mandatory minimum as it did prior to the three-level downward departure; thus, it did not include the impact of the mandatory minimum in calculating the reduced Guidelines range. See Sentencing Tr. (doc. no. 185) at 12. Rather, the reduced Guidelines range was solely the product of a Sentencing Guidelines calculation.

         The parties submitted and the court accepted a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement (“Type-C agreement”), which permits the parties to “agree that a specific sentence or sentencing range is the appropriate disposition of the case, ” and “binds the court once the court accepts the plea agreement.” See Plea Agreement (doc. no. 64) at 2; see also Court Minutes (doc. no. 119). In the Type-C agreement, the government agreed to recommend to the court that Stovall be sentenced at the bottom of the Guidelines range. See Plea Agreement (doc. no. 64) at 3. After the court granted the government's motion for a three-level downward departure on the basis of substantial assistance, the bottom of the Guidelines range was 84 months. As stated, the downward departure occurred from the Guidelines range and was not tied to the mandatory minimum. Thus, at the sentencing hearing, the government requested and the court imposed an 84-month sentence on the basis of the Guidelines range. See Sentencing Tr. (doc. no. 185) at 4. The 84-month sentence was therefore solely the product of a Guidelines-driven range.

         II.

         With Amendment 782 in 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission revised the Sentencing Guidelines applicable to the drug-trafficking offense for which this court sentenced Stovall. The Commission simultaneously promulgated Amendment 788, making Amendment 782 retroactive. This court established a Retroactivity Screening Panel to determine whether defendants such as Stovall might be eligible for a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Stovall's case was submitted for review, but the Panel was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation due to a disagreement over the applicable law.

         Stovall is eligible for a sentence reduction now if he was sentenced “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) (emphasis added). The court finds that Stovall's sentence was “based on” a sentencing range later lowered by the Sentencing Commission.”

         According to Hughes v. United States, “a sentence imposed pursuant to a Type-C agreement is ‘based on' the defendant's Guidelines range so long as that range was part of the framework the district court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the agreement.” 138 S.Ct. 1765, 1775 (2018). Under this approach, as a “general rule [], in most cases, a defendant's sentence will be ‘based on' his Guidelines, ” because “in the usual case the court's acceptance of a Type-C agreement and the sentence to be imposed pursuant to that agreement are ‘based on' the defendant's Guidelines range.” Id. at 1776. Indeed, because “the Guidelines are a district court's starting point, [] when the Commission lowers a defendant's Guidelines range the defendant will be eligible for relief under § 3582(c)(2) absent clear demonstration, based on the record as a whole, that the court would have imposed the same sentence regardless of the Guidelines.” Id.

         Stovall has surmounted the Hughes hurdle. As explained earlier, the court departed downward from the initial Guidelines range by three offense levels to arrive at a lower Guidelines range of 84 to 105 months. The court sentenced Stovall, as per the plea agreement's recommendation of a bottom-of-the-Guidelines sentence, to 84 months. See plea agreement (doc. no. 64) at 3. Stovall's sentence was based on, and, indeed, within, a Guidelines range that was “part of the framework the district court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the agreement.” Hughes, 138 S.Ct. at 1775.

         However, the Hughes hurdle is not the only hurdle Stovall must surmount.

         III.

In 2014, the Commission promulgated Amendment 780, which states that a defendant's Guidelines range should be calculated without regard to the mandatory minimum when the court departed below the minimum based on a substantial-assistance motion.[1] The amendment makes defendants in Stovall's position eligible for retroactive sentencing relief, because, in general, it asks courts on resentencing to look solely to the ...


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