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United States v. Vanzant

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 31, 2019




         This action is before the Court on Defendant Nathaniel Doneil Vanzant's Motion for Sentence Reduction pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018, the United States' response, and Vanzant's reply (docs. 60, 66, 69). Upon consideration and for the reasons set forth herein, Vanzant's motion is GRANTED, and his sentence is reduced to 235 months.

         I. Procedural history

         Defendant Vanzant was indicted on June 26, 2008. He was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a “quantity of crack cocaine” that “exceeded 50 grams” (Count One); possession with intent to distribute a “quantity of cocaine” that “exceeded 5 kilograms” (Count Two), possession with intent to distribute “3.8 grams of a mixture and substances containing a detectable amount of . . . cocaine base” (Count Three), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and § 846, and forfeiture (Count Four).

         Vanzant pled guilty to Count One and was sentenced July 13, 2009. His third motion to continue sentencing based upon ongoing cooperation was denied. At sentencing, Vanzant was held accountable for 4.5 kilograms of crack cocaine (doc. 62, p. 15, p. 51). The sentencing court[1] adopted the Presentence Report and found that Vanzant's total offense level was 37, his criminal history category was VI, and his advisory Guideline range was 360 months to life. His statutory sentence was 10 years to life. Applying the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the sentencing court sentenced Vanzant to a below-Guideline sentence of 320 months with five years of supervised release.

         In 2016, Vanzant moved for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and Amendments 750 and 782 of the Sentencing Guidelines. On September 19, 2016, the sentencing court, citing 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1) & (2)(C), denied the motion based on Vanzant's lengthy criminal history and post-incarceration conduct (doc. 57). Between October 7, 2011 and January 28, 2015, Vanzant had incurred three disciplinary infractions, including possession of a dangerous weapon. The sentencing court found that his “post-sentencing conduct indicates a continued disregard for authority.” Id.

         II. Analysis

         The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 lowered the minimum and maximum mandatory penalties triggered by certain quantities of crack cocaine with respect to defendants who had not been sentenced as of August 3, 2010, the effective date of the Act. However, the Fair Sentencing Act was not applied retroactively. See United States v. Berry, 701 F.3d 374, 376 (11th Cir. 2012). The First Step Act of 2018 authorizes the district courts to exercise their discretion and resentence a defendant who was sentenced before August 3, 2010, “as if” the Fair Sentencing Act's lower threshold quantities had been in place at sentencing.[2] In relevant part, the Act sets forth as follows:

(b) Defendants Previously Sentenced. A court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the Government, or the court, impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372) were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.

Pub. L. No. 115-391, § 404, 132 Stat. 5194, 5221. “In essence, the First Step Act retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act's lower statutory sentencing ranges and allows the Court to bring past sentences into line with the lower ranges.” United States v. Copple, No. 17-CR-40011-JPG-009, 2019 WL 486440, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2019). Also, “[n]ow that the First Step Act has expressly provide additional authority to modify a term of imprisonment, it can serve as a basis for relief under [18 U.S.C.] § 3582(c)(1)(B).” United States v. Wooters, No. 09-CR-40013-JPG, 2019 WL 1897085, at *3 (S.D. Ill. Apr. 29, 2019); 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(B) (“The court may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed except that . . . the court may modify an imposed term of imprisonment to the extent otherwise expressly permitted by statute or by Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure”).

         Vanzant was sentenced before August 3, 2010. He was indicted and plead guilty to the offense of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine in excess of 50 grams. Relevant to Vanzant, Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act increased the 50 grams or more threshold in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) to 280 grams or more and increased the 5 grams or more threshold in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) to 28 grams or more. He is now subject to the provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) and his statutory sentence is reduced from 10 years to life to 5 to 40 years. Vanzant's crack cocaine offense constitutes a “covered offense” as defined in § 404(a)[3] of the First Step Act. Further, none of the limitations of § 404(c)[4] apply.

         Vanzant argues that he is eligible for a reduction under the First Step Act. He has calculated his reduced Guidelines range as 235 to 293 months. Applying a comparable downward variance, Vanzant asserts that his sentence could be reduced to 195 months. Vanzant argues that because the First Step Act provides a broader grant of authority to impose a reduced sentence, the policy limitations of the now advisory Sentencing Guidelines found in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10 do not apply and the Court's discretion is limited only by the statutory minimum and maximum of 5 to 40 years.

         Vanzant also points out that Congress knew that the First Step Act would result in resentencing defendants with a history of significant criminal conduct but did not make that a disqualifying factor. Vanzant accepts that he cannot change his criminal history and asks the Court to consider his history of abuse and neglect and his improved conduct in prison. He points out that he has not obtained a disciplinary infraction since January 2015, [5] over four years ago, and provides his prison record which shows the classes he has taken and completed, his work assignments, and overall conduct (doc. 69-1)

         The United States argues that Vanzant should not receive a reduction because of his significant criminal history. The United States also argues that there is no compelling reason for this Court to deviate from the sentencing court's prior denial of Vanzant's 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) motion or to provide a comparable 40-month downward variance to that received at sentencing. The United States argues that if the Court decides to ...

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