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United States v. Fritz

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

April 29, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
STEPHEN ALEXANDER FRITZ, Defendant.

Zachary T. Lee, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States.

Brian J. Beck, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.

Defendant Stephen Alexander Fritz, a federal inmate sentenced by this court, seeks a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), based upon the two-level reduction in the drug guideline ranges adopted by Amendment 782 to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("USSG") and made retroactive by USSG § 1B1.10(d).

Fritz filed a pro se motion seeking this relief on February 9, 2015. The motion was denied by Order entered February 20, 2015, on the ground that Fritz is ineligible for a sentence reduction because he was sentenced as a Career Offender, rather than with reference to the drug guideline ranges. No appeal was noted, but on April 16, 2015, a second motion was filed on Fritz's behalf by present counsel, in which additional legal arguments were presented. On April 21, 2015, counsel filed an amended motion, adding exhibits relating to Fritz's accomplishments while in prison. The government was given an opportunity to file a response, but has declined to do so, and the motion and amended motion are thus ripe for decision.

While the prior denial of relief is a sufficient basis to deny the latest motions, in light of the fact that Fritz's original motion was presented without the benefit of counsel, I will consider the new legal grounds asserted. In the end, however, I continue to find that Fritz is ineligible for a reduced sentence.

I.

Fritz contends that he is eligible for a sentence reduction despite having been sentenced as a Career Offender. Further, Fritz contends that he should receive a new sentence comparably below the amended guideline range to his prior, below-guidelines sentence on the ground that he substantially assisted the government, despite not having received a government-sponsored substantial assistance motion. Because USSG § 1B1.10 does not permit sentence reductions where the offender was sentenced as a Career Offender, nor does it permit a reduction below the amended guidelines on the basis of substantial assistance absent a government-sponsored motion, I find that this court has no authority to reduce Fritz's sentence. Therefore, the motion for a sentence reduction must be denied.

On October 3, 2013, following Fritz's guilty plea pursuant to a written plea agreement, I sentenced him to a 108-month prison term for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute oxycodone, a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(C) and 846. Fritz's Base Offense Level under the drug offense guidelines was 32. Due to his prior felony convictions, Fritz was designated a Career Offender and sentenced under the Career Offender guideline, with a Base Offense Level of 32. See USSG § 4B1.1(a). With adjustments for acceptance of responsibility, Fritz's Total Offense Level was 29, with a Criminal History Category of VI, resulting in an advisory imprisonment range of 151 to 188 months. At sentencing, I varied below the guideline range, and sentenced him to 108 months imprisonment. (Statement of Reasons, ECF No. 185.) Had Fritz not been sentenced as a Career Offender, but under the drug guidelines, his Criminal History Category would have been IV, with an advisory imprisonment range of 121 to 151 months. USSG, ch. 5, pt. A, Sentencing Table.[1]

On April 30, 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress a proposed amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines that would revise the guidelines applicable to drug trafficking offenses, effective November 1, 2014. The drug amendment, designated Amendment 782, generally reduces by two levels the offense levels assigned to the drug quantities described in USSG § 2D1.1. Fritz now seeks a reduction in sentence based upon a two-level reduction in his Base Offense Level to 27, but with the Career Offender Criminal History Category of VI, which produces a sentencing range of 130 to 162 months. He suggests that because his actual sentence was below that recalculated range, he should receive a "comparable reduction" to 93 months. (Amended Mot. 3, ECF No. 248.)

Section 3582(c)(2) "does not authorize a sentencing or resentencing proceeding, " but instead "provides for the modification of a term of imprisonment by giving courts the power to reduce an otherwise final sentence in circumstances specified by the [Sentencing] Commission." Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 825 (2010) (internal quotations and alterations omitted). Sentence reductions pursuant to § 3582(c)(2) involve a two-step inquiry. The "court must first determine that a reduction is consistent with § 1B1.10 before it may consider whether the authorized reduction is warranted, either in whole or in part, according to the factors set forth in § 3553(a)." Id. at 826. Regarding the first step, "[a] reduction under § 3582(c)(2) "is not authorized' if an amendment does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range.'" United States v. Munn, 595 F.3d 183, 187 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting USSG § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B)).

It is settled that defendants sentenced under the Career Offender guidelines are not eligible for sentence reductions pursuant to amendments to the drug guidelines. Id. ("[A] district court lacks the authority to grant a motion for a reduced sentence under [the applicable amendment] if the defendant seeking the reduction was sentenced pursuant to the Career Offender Provision."). In this case, Fritz's "applicable guideline range was predicated on... the Career Offender Provision... rather than on the [drug] Guidelines, such that [the applicable amendment] had no impact on the ultimate sentence." Id. In other words, Fritz is not eligible for a sentence reduction because he was sentenced as a Career Offender, and Amendment 782 does not affect the Career Offender guidelines.[2]

Fritz argues that the operation of the Career Offender guideline in drug cases is irrational and in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, because it results in disparate, unfavorable outcomes for African Americans. While any such disparate outcomes are surely lamentable, Fritz has not presented any evidence that these outcomes are due to constitutionally suspect motives, or that similarly situated white defendants have received favorable treatment. See United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456, 465 (1996) (holding that to show equal protection violation, defendant must show that policy "had a discriminatory effect and that it was motivated by a discriminatory purpose"). To the contrary, the use of criminal history to determine a just sentence is accepted as part of the sentencing guidelines, which assign a Criminal History score to calculate defendants' sentences, and in the sentencing factors articulated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1), which include the "history and characteristics of the defendant." It is certainly not irrational for the guidelines to suggest an even higher sentence for those convicted of two or more similar and serious crimes.

II.

Additionally, Fritz contends that he is eligible for a sentence reduction below the amended guideline range based on his substantial assistance to authorities. However, § 1B1.10(b)(2) forbids the court from reducing a defendant's sentence to a term of imprisonment less than the minimum of the amended guideline range, unless the defendant originally received a downward departure based on the government's motion to reflect the defendant's substantial assistance to authorities. Fritz did not receive a government-sponsored substantial assistance motion, and the plain language of § 1B1.10(b)(2) limits the court's authority to reduce sentences below the amended guideline range to defendants who have received such a motion.[3] In any event, Fritz's argument is inapposite because he does not qualify for any sentence reduction, much less one below the amended guideline range.

III.

For these reasons, it is ORDERED that the Motion and Amended Motion to Reduce Sentence (ECF No. 246, 248) are DENIED.


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