United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge
before the court is Benitiez Dominique Copeland's motion
for a reduced sentence pursuant to Section 404(b) of the
First Step Act of 2018, filed by and through counsel. (Dkt.
No. 42.) The motion is brief, and it asks the court to rule
without a hearing. It simply requests that the court adopt a
recently-filed addendum to the Presentence Investigation
Report (PSR) and then requests that the court reduce
Copeland's sentence “to a sentence of 116 months in
prison, to be followed by three years of supervised
release.” (Id.) In the addendum, the United
States Probation Office notes that Copeland is eligible for a
reduction in sentence pursuant to the First Step Act and 18
U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(B). As described in more detail
below, the addendum concludes that Copeland's mandatory
minimum sentence and applicable guideline range have been
reduced as a result of the First Step Act. It points out
that, if the court were to impose a new sentence with a
downward variance in the same proportion that the sentencing
court originally imposed, then his sentence would be reduced
from 144 months to 116 months. The United States opposes any
reduction, and the court discusses the parties' arguments
below. Neither party has requested a hearing, and, as noted,
Copeland has expressly waived one.
reasons discussed below, the court will grant defendant's
motion to reduce sentence. Also pending before the court is
the United States' motion to stay (Dkt. No. 46), in which
it requests that the court stay the case in order to allow it
to review the case further. It has since filed its amended
response (Dkt. No. 48). Accordingly, the motion to stay (Dkt.
No. 46) will be denied as moot.
pleaded guilty to the single-count indictment against him,
which charged him with distribution of five grams or more of
cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B). (Dkt. No. 3.) At the time, the
statutory penalties for that offense, based on 5 grams or
more of cocaine base, were set forth in § 841(b)(1)(B).
The offense carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five
years and a maximum sentence of forty years, as well as a
supervised release term of four years to life. (Presentence
Investigation Report (PSR) ¶¶ 52, 55, Dkt. No. 40.)
sentencing, the court found Copeland responsible for 13.5
grams of cocaine base, resulting in a base offense level of
24. He received a three-level decrease for acceptance of
responsibility, resulting in an adjusted offense level of 21.
Because he was determined to be a career offender, however,
his total offense level was 31. His criminal history category
was a VI, resulting in a guideline range of 188 to 235
months. (PSR ¶¶ 9-19, 53.)
sentencing, the court varied below the guideline range and
imposed a sentence of 144 months. That sentence length
represented approximately 77% of the bottom of the guideline
range. The sentencing judge also imposed a five-year term of
supervised release. Copeland did not appeal. He has not
previously filed any other motions to reduce his sentence.
First Step Act
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 allows-but does not
require-district courts to reduce the sentence of certain
defendants sentenced prior to August 3, 2010, the effective
date of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. If the court elects
to reduce a sentence, it may resentence the 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).
parties agree, Copeland 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)(B) from 5 grams to 28 grams.
charged, Copeland's offense involved 5 or more grams of
cocaine base, and the PSR states that he was held responsible
for 13.5 grams. (PSR ¶ 9.) If the court were to
resentence him as if the Fair Sentencing Act were in effect,
he would no longer be subject to the statutory penalties of
§ 841(b)(1)(B) but would instead be subject to the
penalties set forth in § 841(b)(1)(C). Under that
provision, Copeland's statutory sentencing range would be
0 to 20 years for a term of imprisonment and the statutory
term of supervised release would be 3 years to life.
guideline range also has been lowered. Applying the drug
quantity guidelines in effect now (and again, because of his
career offender status), his base offense level would be a
32. After the three-level decrease for acceptance of
responsibility, Copeland's total offense level would be
29. A total offense level of 29 and criminal history category
of VI results in an adjusted guideline range of 151 to 188
months. (See Addendum, Dkt. No. 41.) The Addendum
notes that if the court were to grant a variance comparable
to the variance at his original sentencing (approximately 77%
of the bottom of the adjusted guideline range), the result
would be a term of imprisonment of approximately 116 months.