Argued: September 23, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, at Richmond. Robert E. Payne, Senior
District Judge. (3:08-cr-00186-REP-RCY-2)
by published opinion. Judge Wilkinson wrote the majority
opinion, in which Judge Diaz joined. Chief Judge Gregory
wrote a dissenting opinion.
Caroline Swift Platt, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER,
Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant.
Sinclair Duffey, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY,
Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.
C. Kamens, Federal Public Defender, Alexandria, Virginia,
Robert J. Wagner, Assistant Federal Public Defender, OFFICE
OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Richmond, Virginia, for
J. Boente, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED
STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
GREGORY, Chief Judge, and WILKINSON and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.
WILKINSON, Circuit Judge
Peters appeals the district court's denial of his motion
for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). A
jury convicted Peters of both conspiracy to distribute 50
grams or more of cocaine base, or "crack, " and a
related firearms conspiracy. Given the quantity of cocaine
base attributable to Peters, the district court applied the
maximum base offense level for drug-trafficking crimes under
the Sentencing Guidelines. Peters ultimately received 480
months of imprisonment.
Guidelines Amendment 782 increased the minimum quantity of
cocaine base associated with the maximum base offense level
to 25.2 kilograms, Peters moved for a sentence reduction
under § 3582(c)(2). The district court denied the
motion, concluding that "the quantity of controlled
substance in the offense of conviction renders the defendant
ineligible for a reduction of sentence." J.A. 748. On
appeal, Peters argues that the district court erred by
failing to explain its eligibility determination in
sufficient detail and by finding him responsible for at least
25.2 kilograms of cocaine base. For the reasons that follow,
first set forth the general statutory framework for deciding
sentence reductions. Ordinarily, of course, a sentence is
final. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) (2012). Recognizing a
discrete exception to the general rule of sentencing
finality, section 3582(c)(2) allows reductions to a
defendant's term of imprisonment to give the defendant
"the benefit of later enacted adjustments to the
judgments reflected in the Guidelines." Dillon v.
United States, 560 U.S. 817, 828 (2010); see
§ 3582(c)(2). Section 3582(c)(2), the Supreme Court has
explained, permits "only a limited adjustment to an
otherwise final sentence and not a plenary resentencing
proceeding." Dillon, 560 U.S. at 826. This
court has noted that § 3582(c)(2) does not allow "a
do-over of an original sentencing proceeding, " in which
the defendant is "cloaked in rights mandated by
statutory law and the Constitution." United States
v. Legree, 205 F.3d 724, 730 (4th Cir. 2000) (quoting
United States v. Tidwell, 178 F.3d 946, 949 (7th
decide whether to reduce a defendant's sentence under
§ 3582(c)(2), courts conduct a "two-step
inquiry." Dillon, 560 U.S. at 826; United
States v. Williams, 808 F.3d 253, 257 (4th Cir. 2015).
First, a court must determine the defendant's
eligibility. Section 3582(c)(2) permits a reduction only if
(1) the defendant's "term of imprisonment [was]
based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been
lowered by the Sentencing Commission, " and (2) the
reduction "is consistent with applicable policy
statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." §
3582(c)(2). Second, the court may grant the authorized
reduction "after considering the factors set forth in
section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable."
Id.; see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012).
The ultimate decision of "[w]hether to reduce a sentence
and to what extent" is committed to the district
court's discretion. United States v. Smalls, 720
F.3d 193, 195 (4th Cir. 2013); see Legree, 205 F.3d
Guidelines policy statement implementing the statute,
Guidelines § 1B1.10, spells out the process for
determining whether an amendment lowers a defendant's
sentencing range. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines
Manual ("U.S.S.G.") § 1B1.10 (2014). Courts
"shall substitute . . . the amendments . . . for the
corresponding guideline provisions that were applied when the
defendant was sentenced and shall leave all other guideline
application decisions unaffected." Id. §
1B1.10(b)(1). Section 1B1.10 also functions as a gatekeeper,
specifying which Guidelines amendments apply retroactively
and thus may give rise to a sentence reduction under §
3582(c)(2). Id. § 1B1.10(a)(2)(A), (d).
under § 3582(c)(2) must be based on an amendment to the
Guidelines. See id. § 1B1.10(a)(1). Following
the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, the Sentencing Commission
amended the Guidelines with respect to cocaine base offenses.
drug-trafficking crimes in general, a defendant's base
offense level depends on the type of drug and the amount
attributable to the defendant. See U.S.S.G. §
2D1.1(a)(5), (c) (2015). The Drug Quantity Table specifies
particular base offense levels for quantity ranges of various
drugs, with a maximum of 38 levels. Id. §
Sentencing Commission revised the Drug Quantity Table after
Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act. To alleviate the
severe sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine,
the Act reduced the statutory penalties for cocaine base
offenses. Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 § 2, Pub. L. No.
111-220, 124 Stat. 2372, 2372 (codified at 21 U.S.C. §
841 (2012)). Accordingly, Guidelines Amendments 750 and 782
lowered the base offense levels assigned to different amounts
of cocaine base. The Commission made both amendments
retroactive. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(d).
750 increased the minimum quantity of cocaine base necessary
to trigger the maximum base offense level from 4.5 to 8.4
kilograms. U.S.S.G. app. C, amend. 750 (effective Nov. 1,
2011). Amendment 782 again raised the requisite amount of
cocaine base from 8.4 to 25.2 kilograms. U.S.S.G. supp. app.
C, amend. 782 (effective Nov. 1, 2014).
defendants responsible for at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine
base, Amendment 782 has no effect; the maximum base offense
level (38 levels) still applies. Defendants accountable for
more than 8.4 but less than 25.2 kilograms of the drug,
however, will receive a base offense level of 36 levels.
appellant Spencer Peters was indicted in 2008 along with his
brother Terrence Peters and their associate Clifford
Noel. The two-count superseding
indictment charged them with conspiring to distribute 50
grams or more of cocaine base (Count One) as well as
conspiring to possess firearms in furtherance of a
drug-trafficking offense (Count Two). The indictment alleged