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United States v. Laguerre

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

February 22, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
PRINCIBE LAGUERRE

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Pending before the court are two motions to reduce Princibe Laguerre's sentence pursuant to Section 404(b) of the First Step Act of 2018. The first was filed by counsel and requests that his sentence be reduced from a term of imprisonment of 240 months to 193 months, resulting in his “immediate release.” (Dkt. No. 297.) The second was filed by Laguerre, proceeding pro se. (Dkt. No. 300.) The United States has filed a response, in which it acknowledges that Laguerre is eligible for relief under the Act and recommends that, if the court reduces his sentence, that the court impose a sentence of 196 months, but not less than time served. (Dkt. No. 302.) Laguerre's counsel has filed a reply, in which she asks for a reduced sentence of 196 months, instead of the 193 originally requested. (Dkt. No. 303.) Neither party has requested a hearing, and Laguerre has waived any right to a formal hearing. (Reply 1, Dkt. No. 303.) For the reasons discussed below, the court will grant the defendant's motion and reduce his sentence to a term of imprisonment of 196 months, but not less than time served, to be followed by a four-year term of supervised release.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Laguerre was charged in a single-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base and at least five kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). He proceeded to trial, and a jury found him guilty on October 30, 2003.

         It is undisputed that he was convicted of conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base. As to the amount of cocaine, defendant's counseled motion says he was convicted only of “more than 500 grams, but less than 5 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride.” For support, the motion cites to the Fourth Circuit's decision on direct appeal (Dkt. No. 183). The text of the Fourth Circuit opinion echoes the language in the indictment and in the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), saying that the jury convicted Laguerre of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride. (Dkt. No. 183 at 8.) In a footnote, though, the Fourth Circuit notes a “discrepancy” and explains that the jury's verdict form actually found him guilty of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute “less than five kilograms but more than five hundred grams of cocaine hydrochloride.” (Dkt. No. 183 at 8-9 n.5.) Despite documentation to the contrary (including the PSR and the judgment), the parties now appear to agree-consistent with the jury's verdict-that Laguerre should be treated as convicted of 50 grams of cocaine base and more than 500 grams, but less than five kilograms, of cocaine. (Def.'s Mot. to Reduce 2, Dkt. No. 297 (so stating); see also U.S. Response 6, Dkt. No. 302 (noting that, under the First Step Act, Laguerre should be sentenced pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), which would not be applicable to an offense involving 5 kilograms or more of cocaine).)

         The case then proceeded to sentencing. At the original sentencing, the court held Laguerre responsible for 1.5 kilograms of cocaine base. That amount resulted in a base offense level of 38. Laguerre received a three-level increase for his role in the offense and no adjustment for acceptance of responsibility. This resulted in a total offense level of 41. Because he was a career criminal under USSG § 4B1.1, his criminal history category was a VI. This resulted in a then-mandatory guideline range of 360 months to life. The court sentenced him to 360 months, the low end of the guideline range.

         Subsequent to his sentencing, but while his case was on appeal, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), rendering the guidelines advisory. The Fourth Circuit thus remanded the case for resentencing in light of Booker.

         He was resentenced upon remand on May 20, 2006. At that resentencing, the court concluded that Laguerre's statutory penalty range remain unchanged: under § 841(b)(1)(A), the penalty was 10 years to life, with a minimum five-year term of supervised release.[1] The court likewise concluded that the guideline range remained the same-360 months to life. The court imposed a variance sentence of 240 months, which was still ten years above the low end of the statutory range as the court understood it at the time. It appears that the court imposed a below-guidelines sentence for one or more of the reasons argued by counsel, which were that Laguerre had no criminal history aside from the two prior convictions that resulted in his being a career offender, that a number of his co-conspirators received lesser sentences, his age (which was 50 at the time), and that he had a 57-month sentence on an illegal reentry charge also to serve.[2] (Resentencing Tr., Dkt. No. 235.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Laguerre, both through counsel and on his own behalf, now seeks relief under Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018. 115 Pub. L. 391, § 404, 132 Stat. 5194 (enacted Dec. 21, 2018); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(B) (authorizing courts to modify a previously imposed sentence “to the extent otherwise expressly permitted by statute”). Section 404 effectively makes the provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive to defendants who were sentenced prior to August 3, 2010, and it allows-but does not require-district courts to reduce the sentence of a defendant as if the sections of the Fair Sentencing Act were in effect at the time the defendant's offense was committed. See First Step Act § 404(c).

         As the parties agree, Laguerre meets all the criteria to be eligible for a reduction under Section 404 of the First Step Act. Specifically, his offense was committed before August 3, 2010, and the statutory penalties applicable to his offense were modified by Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act, which “reduced the statutory penalties for cocaine base offenses” in order to “alleviate the severe sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.” United States v. Peters, 843 F.3d 572, 575 (4th Cir. 2016). As relevant here, Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act increased the quantity of cocaine base required to trigger the statutory penalties set forth in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) from 50 grams to 280 grams.

         Laguerre was charged with 50 grams or more of cocaine base, and not at least 280 grams. Thus, applying the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively to his case means he would no longer be subject to the statutory penalties of § 841(b)(1)(A), but would instead be subject to the penalties set forth in § 841(b)(1)(B). Under that provision, and without the § 851 notice, Laguerre's statutory sentencing range is 5 to 40 years and a supervised release term of 5 years to life.

         With regard to the guidelines, Laguerre was sentenced based on 1.5 kilograms of cocaine base. Applying the drug quantity guidelines in effect now would establish a base offense level of 32, plus the three-level adjustment for his aggravating role, resulting in a total offense level of 35. Because the maximum possible penalty is only 40 years, his offense level would only be a 34 under the career offender guidelines, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, and so the greater offense level as calculated based on the drug amounts would apply, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b). Accordingly, his total offense level of 35 and criminal history category of VI would result in a guideline range of 292 to 365 months.

         Upon review of the record, the court agrees with the parties that a sentence reduction is warranted in Laguerre's case. When he was resentenced to 240 months, the court granted approximately a 33% reduction from the low end of the guideline range, which was then 360 months. A commensurate reduction here from the low end of the revised guideline range (292 months) would result in a sentence of 196 months. According to the Addendum prepared by the United States Probation Office, it appears that Laguerre has already served approximately 191 months. Laguerre's counseled motion seeks a sentence of 196 months and states that such a sentence ...


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