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United States v. Jones

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

April 10, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
TRAVIS LEE JONES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge

         Defendant Travis Lee Jones has filed a motion for reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) based on Amendment 782 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. For the following reasons, the defendant's motion must be denied.

         Background

         On May 26, 2011, a grand jury in the Western District of Virginia returned a multi-count indictment against Jones. Count One of the indictment charged the defendant with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A), and 846. On September 14, 2011, Jones entered a plea of guilty to that count.

         Prior to sentencing, a probation officer prepared a presentence investigation report ("PSR"). In the PSR, the probation officer attributed between 1.5 and 5 kilograms of methamphetamine to the defendant. That particular drug quantity and type resulted in a base offense level of 34 under United States Sentencing Guidelines ("U.S.S.G.") § 2D1.1(c) (2010). With a two-level enhancement for possession of a firearm, a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, and a criminal history category of VI, Jones' guideline range would have been 235 to 293 months of imprisonment. However, Jones was also found to be a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. As a result of the career offender designation, the base offense level calculated under § 2D1.1 was superseded by the higher offense level determined by the career offender provision. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b) (providing that "the offense level from the table in this subsection shall apply" if it "is greater than the offense level otherwise applicable"). Application of the career offender provision ultimately resulted in a total offense level of 34 and an advisory guideline range of imprisonment of 262 to 327 months.

         Jones appeared for sentencing on December 12, 2011. At that time, the court adopted the PSR in its entirety, including the determination that the defendant qualified for sentencing under the career offender provision of the Guidelines. However, the court found that the career offender designation overstated Jones' actual criminal history. Accordingly, the court departed downward to a total offense level of 33, which produced a post-departure range of 235 to 293 months' imprisonment. The court ultimately sentenced the defendant to a term of imprisonment of 240 months.

         In 2015, the government moved to reduce Jones' sentence for substantial assistance, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b). The court granted the motion and reduced the defendant's term of imprisonment to 180 months.

         In January of 2015, Jones filed a pro se motion for reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). This statute authorizes the court to reduce a defendant's term of imprisonment if the term was "based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission," and "if such a reduction is consistent with the applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The defendant relied on Amendment 782 to the Sentencing Guidelines, which reduced the base offense levels assigned to most drug quantities in § 2D 1.1 by two levels. Counsel subsequently filed a brief in support of the defendant's motion.

         On May 11, 2016, the court denied the defendant's motion for reduction of sentence. The court determined that the defendant was not eligible for relief under § 3582(c)(2), since his guideline range as a career offender was not affected by Amendment 782. The court's decision was affirmed on appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. See United States v. Jones, No. 16-6667 (4th Cir. July 20, 2017) (affirming for the reasons stated by the district court).

         Discussion

         The defendant, through counsel, has filed a second motion for reduction of sentence pursuant to § 3582(c)(2) and Amendment 782. Relying on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Hughes v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1765 (2018), the defendant argues that his sentence was "based on" the drug quantity guidelines rather than the career offender provisions. For the following reasons, the court remains convinced that the defendant is not eligible for a sentence reduction.

         The current motion is based entirely on the Supreme Court's ruling in Hughes. In that case, the "controlling issue" was "whether a defendant may seek relief under § 3582(c)(2) if he entered a plea agreement specifying a particular sentence under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C)." Hughes, 138 S.Ct. at 1773. The Supreme Court had previously confronted the same question in Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522 (2011). "Freeman ended in a 4-1-4 decision that left lower courts confused as to whether the plurality or the concurring opinion controlled." Id. at 1778 (Sotomayor, J., concurring). In Hughes, the Court "resolve[d] the uncertainty that resulted from [its] divided decision in Freeman," and held that "a sentence imposed pursuant to a [Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement] is 'based on' the defendant's Guidelines range so long as that range was part of the framework the district court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the agreement." Id. at 1775. In the case before it, the district court "calculated Hughes' sentencing range and imposed a sentence that the court deemed 'compatible' with the Guidelines." Id. at 1778. "Thus, the sentencing range was a basis for the sentence" that the district court imposed. Id. Because "[t]hat range ha[d] 'subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission'" through Amendment 782, the Supreme Court concluded that Hughes was eligible for relief under § 3582(c)(2).[*]

         Jones' reliance on Hughes is misplaced for two reasons. First, unlike the plea agreement in Hughes, the plea agreement in the instant case did not include an agreed-upon sentence or sentencing range under Rule 11(c)(1)(C). See United States v. Frazier, 742 Fed.Appx. 763, 764 n.* (4th Cir. 2018) ("Frazier's reliance on the Supreme Court's ruling in Hughes ... is misplaced. Unlike in Hughes, Frazier's plea agreement did not include a sentencing stipulation pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C).").

         Second, Amendment 782 did not have the effect of lowering the guideline range that applies in this case. As indicated above, § 3582(c)(2) authorizes the court to reduce a defendant's sentence only if the defendant was "sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission," and if "such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The "applicable policy statements" are those found in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10. Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817. 826 (2010). "A reduction is not consistent with applicable policy statements and therefore not authorized under § 3582(c)(2) if 'an amendment listed in [U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(d)] does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range.'" United States v. Nickens, 668 Fed.Appx. 20, 21 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting U.S.S.G. ยง 1B1.10(a)(2)(B)). The Guidelines define the "applicable guideline range" as "the guideline range that ...


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