December 12, 2016
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
SPENCER PETERS, a/k/a Smoke, Defendant-Appellant.
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
that these conspiracies lasted nearly a decade, beginning
around January 2000 and ending around February 2008.
trial, the government presented numerous witnesses, including
former confederates, law enforcement officials, and
individuals who purchased cocaine base from Peters and
members of his organization. The evidence indicated that
Peters was second only to his brother, Terrence, in the
conspiracy's multilayer hierarchy and led the group when
Terrence was absent. Although Peters was incarcerated for a
period in 2003 and again from May 2005 onward, witnesses
explained that Peters stayed in contact with members of the
conspiracy while in prison and attempted to recruit a fellow
to the government's witnesses, members of the
crack-distribution ring, including Peters, regularly traveled
from Richmond, Virginia to New York to purchase cocaine
hydrochloride, or "powder cocaine." They usually
bought one to two kilograms per trip. The group used two
vehicles for these missions. Peters transported the drugs
back to Richmond in his car, which was specially outfitted
with hidden compartments. Terrence drove ahead in a separate
vehicle to look out for police and warn his brother. Upon
returning to Richmond, Terrence converted the powder cocaine
group distributed crack through multiple channels, using a
dedicated house as home base. Witnesses testified that the
traffickers, including Peters, sold cocaine base to
individual users and drug dealers, mostly for money but
sometimes for firearms. One witness estimated that he had
purchased a total of 1 to 1.5 kilograms of crack from the
group. Peters also supplied his subordinates with cocaine
base to sell on consignment. At one point, the conspirators
began working in shifts, retailing crack 24/7 from their
house and serving 40 to 50 customers on an average day. The
group later shifted to a wholesale model in which it
primarily sold cocaine base to mid-level dealers.
jury convicted Peters, his brother, and Noel in 2009. At
sentencing, the government argued that "a highly
conservative estimate of the attributable drug weight in this
case exceeds 150 kilograms." J.A. 596. At Terrence's
sentencing hearing, which directly preceded Spencer's,
the district court observed: "The Government's
estimate of 150 kilograms is not off the mark . . . based on
the evidence in the case of which there was ample amount and
corroborated in every respect." J.A. 630.
the Drug Quantity Table in effect when Peters was sentenced,
defendants responsible for 4.5 or more kilograms of cocaine
base received the maximum, 38-level base offense level.
U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c) (2008). Peters's presentence
investigation report (PSR) attributed at least 4.5 kilograms
of crack to him. The PSR summarized the key facts supporting
Testimony showed that the members were bringing 1 to 2
kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride from New York to Richmond
on a weekly basis. While there were time periods that no
drugs were brought from New York due to members being jailed
or out of town, the extended period of the conspiracy makes
it clear that the total amount of cocaine base trafficked by
the conspiracy members would be well in excess of 4.5
J.A. 756. The district court adopted the PSR.
also recommended that Peters receive a 2-level enhancement
for possessing a firearm and a 3-level enhancement as a
manager or supervisor of a drug conspiracy involving at least
five participants. At Peters's sentencing hearing, the
district court characterized Peters as the "acting CEO
when the CEO was gone." J.A. 644. The court noted that
Peters "supervised the business [and] the
subordinates" and "helped recruit new members to
the organization." Id.
adjusted offense level of 43 and his criminal history
category of I yielded an advisory Guidelines sentencing range
of life in prison. Because of a prior drug offense, his
statutory mandatory minimum sentence was 20 years.
to Peters's individual role in the offense, the district
court concluded that "[a] sentence of life imprisonment
is greater than necessary to effectuate the goals set forth
in Sec. 3553(a)." J.A. 787. The court varied downward
and ultimately sentenced Peters to 480 months of imprisonment
for Count One and 240 months of imprisonment for Count Two,
to run concurrently. This court upheld the conviction and
sentence. United States v. Peters, 392 F.App'x
161 (4th Cir. 2010).
2013, Peters filed his first motion for a sentence reduction
under § 3582(c)(2). He argued that Amendment 750 lowered
his sentencing range by raising the crack quantity threshold
for the maximum base offense level to 8.4 kilograms. The
district court denied Peters's motion, stating: "The
quantity of controlled substance in the offense of conviction
renders the defendant ineligible for a sentence reduction,
but, even if he were eligible, the Court would decline to
[reduce his sentence] because . . . the originally imposed
sentence is appropriate." J.A. 717-18. This court
affirmed. United States v. Peters, 576
F.App'x 209 (4th Cir. 2014).
2015, Peters again sought a sentence reduction under §
3582(c)(2), this time relying on Amendment 782. The Probation
Office recommended that the district court find Peters
ineligible because Peters was responsible for more than 25.2
kilograms of cocaine base. As before, the district court
denied the motion:
Having considered the defendant's [motion], the
Government's response thereto and the reply, the record,
the presentence report, the [recommendation of] the Probation
Office and all other applicable requirements of law, it is
hereby ORDERED that the defendant's [motion] is denied
because the quantity of controlled substance in the offense
of conviction renders the defendant ineligible for a
reduction of sentence under the retroactive crack amendment,
J.A. 748. Because the district court found Peters ineligible
at the first step of the § 3582(c)(2) inquiry, the court
did not reach the discretionary second step.
eligibility for a sentence reduction turns solely on whether
he is responsible for at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine
base. If so, he still receives the maximum base offense
level, and Amendment 782 does not alter his Guidelines
sentencing range--thus precluding him from a sentence
reduction under § 3582(c)(2).
challenges the district court's denial of his motion on
two grounds. First, Peters asserts that the district court
did not adequately explain why it found him ineligible.
Second, he argues that any finding attributing 25.2 or more
kilograms of cocaine base to him is clearly erroneous.
review a district court's decision to grant or deny a
sentence-reduction motion under § 3582(c)(2) for abuse
of discretion. Smalls, 720 F.3d at 195. We review
the district court's ruling as to the scope of its legal
authority under § 3582(c)(2) de novo. United States
v. Mann, 709 F.3d 301, 304 (4th Cir. 2013). Finally, we
review factual determinations, including the attributable
drug quantity, for clear error. Id.
outset, we note that district courts may make additional
findings on the drug quantities attributable to defendants in
§ 3582(c)(2) proceedings. Such findings must be
supported by the record and consistent with earlier findings.
eligibility inquiry contemplated by § 3582(c)(2) may
even require the court to supplement its findings in some
circumstances. Section 3582(c)(2) instructs courts to
determine whether a retroactive Guidelines amendment lowers a
defendant's sentencing range. For an amendment to the
Drug Quantity Table, this analysis hinges on whether the drug
quantity attributable to the defendant exceeds or falls below
the revised quantity threshold. This inquiry is
straightforward where the sentencing court found the
defendant responsible for a precise amount (such as "X
kilograms"). But sentencing courts sometimes attribute a
range of quantities (such as "at least X
kilograms") to defendants. In these circumstances, a
court deciding a § 3582(c)(2) motion may need to
identify the attributable drug quantity with more precision
to compare it against the new quantity threshold.
United States v. Mann, we declined to address the
question of whether district courts may supplement their
findings on attributable drug quantities. Id. at
306. We noted, however, that "our sister circuits agree
that additional findings lie within a sentencing court's
discretion." Id. The Seventh Circuit, for
example, held that
nothing prevents the court from making new findings that are
supported by the record and not inconsistent with the
findings made in the original sentencing determination.
Indeed, new findings may be necessary where, as here, the
retroactive amendment to the guidelines altered the relevant
drug-quantity thresholds for determining the defendant's
base offense level.
United States v. Hall, 600 F.3d 872, 876 (7th Cir.
2010). The Eleventh Circuit also elaborated on the power of
courts to make additional findings consistent with earlier
ones: "[I]f a district court found during the original
sentence proceeding that 'at least X kilograms' were
attributable to the defendant, it may not find . . . that
'less than X kilograms' were attributable; it may,
however, find attributable X kilograms, or 2X kilograms, or
10X kilograms." United States v. Hamilton, 715
F.3d 328, 340 (11th Cir. 2013).
courts of appeals have reached the same conclusion. See
United States v. Wyche, 741 F.3d 1284, 1293 (D.C. Cir.
2014) ("If the original sentencing court failed to make
a specific drug-quantity calculation, the resentencing court
may have to make its own quantity finding in order to
determine the defendant's guideline range.");
United States v. Battle, 706 F.3d 1313, 1319 (10th
Cir. 2013) ("[A] district court may look to its previous
findings . . . to make supplemental calculations of drug
quantity at resentencing if such calculations are necessary .
. . ."); United States v. Moore, 706 F.3d 926,
929 (8th Cir. 2013) ("[Section] 1B1.10(b)(1) not only
permits, but may often require, district courts to make
findings necessary to resolve § 3582(c)(2)
motions."); United States v. Moore, 582 F.3d
641, 646 (6th Cir. 2009) ("We do not agree . . . that
the district court's previous determination of 'more
than 1.5 kilograms' means that it cannot also find more
than 4.5 kilograms.").
join our sister circuits in holding that a district court may
make additional findings on the drug quantity attributable to
a defendant. Such findings cannot contradict earlier ones and
must be supported by the record.
the district court properly supplemented its earlier findings
on the quantity of cocaine base attributable to Peters. The
court initially attributed at least 4.5 kilograms of cocaine
base to Peters. The court later found Peters ineligible for a
sentence reduction based on Amendment 750, which benefited
only defendants responsible for less than 8.4 kilograms of
crack. Amendment 782 would lower Peters's base offense
level (and thus his sentencing range) only if he were
accountable for less than 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base. It
would have been impossible for the district court to
determine Peters's eligibility for a reduction without
supplementing its previous attribution of at least 8.4
kilograms of cocaine base. In denying Peters's motion on
eligibility grounds, the court implicitly found him
responsible for at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base. This
finding was consistent with the earlier ones and, for the
reasons that follow, was not clearly erroneous.
question of "whether a court ruling on a §
3582(c)(2) motion must provide an individualized explanation
is one of law that we consider de novo."
Smalls, 720 F.3d at 195. Peters argues that the
district court did not adequately explain why he was
ineligible. Specifically, Peters contends that the court
erred by failing to make "specific findings of fact
showing how it concluded that [he] [wa]s ineligible due to
drug quantity, " Br. of Appellant at 8, and by failing
to specify "the scope of the relevant conduct for which
he can be held accountable, " id. at 21.
threshold matter, there can be no dispute that the district
court found Peters ineligible because he was responsible for
at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base. The court explained
that "the quantity of controlled substance in the
offense of conviction renders the defendant ineligible."
J.A. 748. Although the court did not expressly attribute 25.2
kilograms of cocaine base to Peters, his eligibility turned
solely on whether he was responsible for at least that
amount. See Br. of Appellant at 8. Contrary to
Peters's assertion, logic and common sense indicate the
"basis [on which] the district court concluded that Mr.
Peters was ineligible." Reply Br. of Appellant at 6-7.
the "limited nature of § 3582(c)(2) proceedings,
" Dillon, 560 U.S. at 827, contrasted with
plenary sentencing or resentencing proceedings, gives
district courts more leeway in articulating reasons for
granting or denying motions under § 3582(c)(2). In an
ordinary sentencing proceeding, the district court "must
place on the record an 'individualized assessment'
based on the particular facts of the case before it."
United States v. Carter, 564 F.3d 325, 330 (4th Cir.
2009) (quoting Gall v. United States, 52 U.S. 38');">552 U.S. 38,
50 (2007)). The court must "adequately explain the
chosen sentence to allow for meaningful appellate review and
to promote the perception of fair sentencing."
Gall, 552 U.S. at 50.
motions under § 3582(c)(2), however, "we presume a
district court . . . has considered the 18 U.S.C. §
3553(a) factors [under the discretionary step] and other
pertinent matters before it." Smalls, 720 F.3d
at 195-96. As we explained in Legree, "[a]
court need not engage in ritualistic incantation in order to
establish its consideration of a legal issue. It is
sufficient if . . . the district court rules on issues that
have been fully presented for determination. Consideration is
implicit in the court's ultimate ruling."
Legree, 205 F.3d at 728 (quoting United States
v. Davis, 53 F.3d 638, 642 (4th Cir. 1995)). "[I]n
the absence of evidence a court neglected to consider
relevant factors, " we confirmed in Smalls,
"the court does not err in failing to provide a full
explanation for its § 3582(c)(2) decision."
Smalls, 720 F.3d at 196.
our precedents, the text of § 3582(c)(2) reflects the
"fundamental differences between sentencing and
sentence-modification proceedings." Dillon, 560
U.S. at 830. Section 3582(c)(2) directs courts to §
3553(a) but not § 3553(c), which requires courts to give
reasons for imposing particular sentences "at the time
of sentencing." § 3553(c).
short, Legree and Smalls control here. The
defendants in those cases argued that the district courts
erred by failing to "articulate on the record the
precise reasons" for their conclusions. Legree,
205 F.3d at 727. So did the defendant in United States v.
Stewart. 595 F.3d 197, 199 n.2 (4th Cir. 2010). But
"[w]e held directly to the contrary" in
Legree and Smalls, id., and we
must do so here.
district court's order denying Peters's motion
contained more detail than the ones we upheld in
Legree and Smalls. The district court in
Legree "provided no individualized explanation
in support of its decision." Smalls, 720 F.3d
at 196. Its order stated: "[The] Amendment . . . does
not create a mandatory right to reduction of sentence for
defendant. On consideration of the matter, this court
concludes that defendant's sentence was correct and that
no reduction is appropriate." Order, United States v.
Legree, No. 5:93-cr-92-PMD (D.S.C. Sept. 30, 1997). The
defendant in Smalls unsuccessfully appealed the
district court's decision to grant a limited reduction.
Smalls, 720 F.3d at 194-95. That court's order
declared, "In granting this motion, the court has
considered the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. §
3553(a)." Id. at 195 (quoting the district
the district court clarified that it denied Peters's
motion because he was ineligible. The court also noted the
factual and legal sources on which it relied: "the
defendant's [motion], the Government's response
thereto and the reply, the record, the presentence report,
the [recommendation of] the Probation Office and all other
applicable requirements of law." J.A. 748.
argues that the presumption we endorsed in Legree
and reiterated in Smalls applies only to the second,
discretionary step of the § 3582(c)(2) inquiry. We can
discern in Legree and Smalls no such
limitation. These decisions were grounded in the nature of a
§ 3582(c)(2) proceeding, not in some supposed
distinction between the first and second steps of the
inquiry. See Smalls, 720 F.3d at 198.
offers no evidence to rebut the presumption that the district
court considered the relevant facts and legal principles.
Where a full sentencing has been held and the defendants'
objections raised and entertained, there is simply no reason
to replay the ground. Though it is not required, it will
often be the case that the judge hearing the §
3582(c)(2) motion will have prior familiarity with the
defendant and may even have conducted the original
sentencing. See Smalls, 720 F.3d at 196;
Legree, 205 F.3d at 729. Here, for example, the
district court was "intimate[ly] familiar with
[Peters's] case." Legree, 205 F.3d at 729.
The court oversaw the trial, the sentencing, and Peter's
prior motions under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and §
3582(c)(2). It cannot be claimed that Peters was procedurally
shortchanged or his motion decided by a court unfamiliar with
the depth of his involvement in the conspiracy.
course, it is always permissible for district courts, in
resolving motions under § 3582(c)(2), to offer whatever
explanation they find fitting. A fuller explanation is
generally preferable to an abbreviated one. But, under this
court's clear precedents, "[n]o greater specificity
was required." Id. at 729 n.3.
the district court's finding that Peters was responsible
for at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base was not clearly
erroneous. See Mann, 709 F.3d at 304. Under
Guidelines § 1B1.3, a defendant's relevant conduct
determines which base offense level applies when the
Guidelines specify more than one. U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3(a)
(2015). Courts must assess relevant conduct on an individual
basis. Id. For drug conspiracies, a defendant is
all quantities of contraband with which he was directly
involved and . . . all quantities of contraband that were
involved in transactions carried out by other participants,
if those transactions were within the scope of, and in
furtherance of, the jointly undertaken criminal activity and
were reasonably foreseeable in connection with that criminal
§ 1B1.3 cmt. n.3(D) (describing how Guidelines §
1B1.3(a)(1) applies to "offenses involving contraband
(including controlled substances)").
district court did not commit clear error in finding Peters
responsible for at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base under
Guidelines § 1B1.3. Peters helped lead a criminal
enterprise that manufactured and sold high volumes of crack
for the better part of a decade. The district court's
finding was not a close call.
received a 3-level enhancement for serving in the
organization as his brother's second-in-command. The
record indicates that Peters was intimately familiar with the
group's business model and deeply involved in its
day-to-day operations. He was responsible for transporting
the cocaine hydrochloride from New York back to Richmond.
Peters dispensed crack to his fellow coconspirators, or
"what he called his soldiers, " J.A. 393, for them
to sell on consignment. He sold crack himself. He also helped
ensure the business's security by procuring firearms. And
while Terrence was incarcerated, Peters took up the mantle of
leadership, making major decisions and managing the
PSR captured the full sweep of the conspiracy's
trafficking, which lasted from January 2000 to February 2008:
"Testimony showed that the members were bringing 1 to 2
kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride from New York to Richmond
on a weekly basis." J.A. 756. At Terrence's
sentencing hearing, the district court noted that evidence of
"the vastness of this operation" was
"overwhelming." J.A. 630. The court also observed
that the government's 150-kilogram estimate was "not
off the mark" given the "ample" evidence that
was "corroborated in every respect." Id.
argues that he is not accountable for "any drug
transactions" that occurred while he was incarcerated.
Br. of Appellant at 24. But witnesses testified that while in
prison, Peters kept in touch with members of the conspiracy
and even arranged to bring a fellow inmate into the business.
light of Peters's leadership role in this high-volume
crack-distribution conspiracy, it was hardly inappropriate
for the district court to find Peters responsible for at
least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base. Even excluding the
periods during which Peters was incarcerated, we still cannot
say that the district court committed clear error. Under
Guidelines § 1B1.3, Peters may be held accountable for
the quantity of cocaine base "with which he was directly
involved" plus the quantity involved in transactions
carried out by his coconspirators that were "within the
scope of, and in furtherance of" his drug-trafficking
scheme and were "reasonably foreseeable in connection
with that criminal activity." U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3 cmt.
n.3(D); see id. § 1B1.3(a)(1). Applying this
standard, the district court's finding that the total
quantity of cocaine base attributable to Peters exceeded 25.2
kilograms did not approach clear error. The court's
conclusion that Peters was not eligible for a §
3582(c)(2) sentence reduction is accordingly
GREGORY, Chief Judge, dissenting:
with the majority holding that a district court considering a
motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) may make additional
findings on the drug quantity attributable to a defendant so
long as the findings do not contradict earlier ones and are
supported by the record. I disagree with the conclusion that
the district court's ruling that Peters is ineligible for
a sentence reduction, without any individualized
consideration of his relevant conduct, suffices as an
additional drug quantity finding in this case.
have a general duty to explain their reasoning. In the
sentencing context, the court "should set forth enough
to satisfy the appellate court that he has considered the
parties' arguments and has a reasoned basis for
exercising his own legal decisionmaking authority."
United States v. Carter, 564 F.3d 325, 328 (4th Cir.
2009) (citations omitted). Citing Dillon v. United
States, the majority highlights the "limited nature
of § 3582(c)(2) proceedings" in comparison to
ordinary sentencing proceedings. 560 U.S. 817, 825, 827
(2010) (explaining that § 3582(c)(2) "does not
authorize a sentencing or resentencing proceeding"). But
nothing in Dillon suggests that we should abrogate
district courts' general responsibility to provide some
individualized legal reasoning.
the rationale for requiring courts to explain their
sentencing decisions applies equally to § 3582(c)
proceedings. Explaining sentencing decisions "not only
'allow[s] for meaningful appellate review' but it
also 'promote[s] the perception of fair
sentencing.'" Carter, 564 F.3d at 328
(citing Gall v. United States, 52 U.S. 38, 50
(2007)). This is especially true for sentence reductions made
pursuant to a revised crack-cocaine ratio, which was enacted
to correct structural flaws in the law, rather than to inure
to the benefit of any single defendant. See, e.g.,
Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85, 98 (2007)
("[T]he severe sentences required by the [prior]
100-to-1 ratio [we]re imposed 'primarily upon black
offenders.'"). Amendment 782 to the United States
Sentencing Guidelines ("U.S.S.G.") generally
reduces by two levels the base offense levels assigned to the
drug quantities described in U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c) (U.S.
Sentencing Comm'n Manual 2008). In cases where defendants
seek redress from a flawed sentencing scheme, it would be
even more valuable for the court to explain why that
defendant was not eligible.
the majority holds that district courts need not explain
their reasoning with any particularity in sentencing
modifications. Relying on this Court's holdings in
United States v. Legree, 205 F.3d 724 (4th Cir.
2000), and United States v. Smalls, 720 F.3d 193
(4th Cir. 2013), the majority presumes that the district
court's ruling that Peters is ineligible for a sentence
reduction implicitly found that he was individually
responsible for at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine
base.[*] Unlike the case before us,
Legree and Smalls involved challenges to
the district courts' consideration of the 18 U.S.C.
§ 3553(a) factors-the second, discretionary step of the
§ 3582(c)(2) inquiry.
majority should be reluctant to apply such a broad
presumption in cases where the defendant challenges the
district court's consideration of his eligibility for a
sentence reduction-the first step of the inquiry. See
Dillon, 560 U.S. at 826 ("A court must first
determine that a reduction is consistent with [U.S.S.G.
§] 1B1.10 before it may consider whether the authorized
reduction is warranted . . . according to the factors set
forth in § 3553(a)."). A judge is required to
"explain his conclusion that an unusually lenient or an
unusually harsh sentence is appropriate in a particular case
with sufficient justifications." Gall, 552 U.S.
at 46. Even in cases challenging the district court's
consideration of the § 3553(a) factors, like in
Legree and Smalls, we cautioned that
"a talismanic recitation of the § 3553(a) factors
without application to the defendant being sentenced does not
demonstrate reasoned decisionmaking or provide an adequate
basis for appellate review." Carter, 564 F.3d
at 329 (citing United States v. Stephens, 549 F.3d
459, 466-67 (6th Cir. 2008)). The same must undoubtedly be
true in cases where the district court must evaluate the
defendant's eligibility for a reduction.
a defendant's eligibility requires the court to calculate
the drug quantity attributable to the defendant, see
U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1; U.S.S.G. App. C, Amend. 782 (effective
Nov. 1, 2014), which includes the quantities associated with
the defendant's offense of conviction and any relevant
conduct, United States v. Flores-Alvarado, 779 F.3d
250, 255-56 (4th Cir. 2015), as amended (Mar. 11,
2015). The drug amount is "the factual predicate
necessary for sentencing." United States v.
Collins, 415 F.3d 304, 313 (4th Cir. 2005). In
Collins, we held that a defendant found guilty of a
drug conspiracy should receive an individualized sentence,
where the district court considers the distribution of the
amount of drugs "attributable to him" as opposed to
the amount distributed by the entire conspiracy. Id.
at 312. It seems axiomatic that a court considering a §
3582(c)(2) motion-particularly in a case where there is an
obvious need for additional drug-quantity fact finding-must
provide some individualized explanation demonstrating its
consideration of the defendant's relevant conduct. To
hold that the district court made such an important factual
determination by simply finding Peters ineligible for the
reduction cuts against courts' embedded responsibility to
explain their decisions. I would therefore vacate and remand
with instructions to the district court to provide a fuller
explanation of its drug-quantity calculation.
[*] At the time Peters was sentenced, he
received a base offense level of 38, which applied where the
offense involved at least 4.5 kilograms of cocaine base.
U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(1). Under Amendment 782, a base
offense level of 38 applies where the offense involved at
least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base. Id.
 We refer to the appellant Spencer
Peters as "Peters." When discussing his brother, we
use "Terrence" or "Terrence
 Our distinguished colleague in dissent
does not discuss or dispute any of the above facts or explain
what purpose a remand here could possibly serve.