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United States v. Copeland

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

May 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
BENITIEZ DOMINIQUE COPELAND

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge

         Pending 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.

         For the 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Copeland 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.)

         At 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.)

         At 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.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. First Step Act

         Copeland 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).

         As the 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.

         As 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.

         Copeland's 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.

         B. ...


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