United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
the Hughes hurdle is not the only hurdle Stovall
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. 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 ...