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United States v. Ferguson

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

August 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RYAN D. FERGUSON, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         Ryan D. Ferguson, represented by counsel, filed a motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to Section 404(b) of the First Step Act of 2018. ECF No. 128. He asks the court to reduce his current sentence of 120 months to time served. The government asserts that Ferguson is eligible for consideration of a reduction in his sentence but that a further reduction of his sentence is not warranted. For the reasons set forth below, the court will GRANT Ferguson's request and modify his sentence to time served, to be followed by a 5-year term of supervised release.

         L

         On August 5, 2010, a superseding indictment was filed as to Ferguson, alleging two counts: that beginning on or about January 1, 2010 and continuing to on or about March 1, 2010, he conspired with two other defendants to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) and all in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count 1), and that on March 1, 2010 he and two other defendants possessed with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count 2). ECF No. 25. On August 30, 2010, the government filed an information pursuant to 21' U.S.C. § 851, giving notice of its intent to rely upon two previous drug convictions for purposes of enhancing Ferguson's sentence. ECF No. 52.

         On September 30, 2010, Ferguson entered into a written plea agreement where he agreed to plead guilty to Count 1 of the indictment and the government agreed to dismiss Count 2 at sentencing. In addition, the government agreed to seek enhancement of his sentence for only one prior felony drug offense, rather than two. ECF No. 62 at 3.

         Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A)(2009), Ferguson faced a statutory sentencing range of 20 years to life. ECF No. 125 at 16. Under the sentencing guidelines, based on at least 196 but less than 280 grams of cocaine base, his base offense level was 30. He received a 3-point decrease for acceptance of responsibility for a total offense level of 27. ECF No. 125. Coupled with a criminal history category of VI, his guideline range was 130 to 162 months. U.S.S.G. Ch. 5, Pt. A.

         However, Ferguson was classified as a career offender because he had at least two prior felony convictions. ECF No. 125 at 6. Because the statutory maximum penalty was life, his offense level was 37, reduced by 3 points for acceptance of responsibility, for a total offense level of 34. U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1; ECF No. 125 at 6. An offense level of 34 together with a criminal history category of VI resulted in a guidelines range of 262 to 327 months. U.S.S.G. Ch. 5, Pt. A; ECF No. 125 at 16.[1] The government filed a motion for substantial assistance asking the court to depart downward from the otherwise applicable guideline range and mandatory minimum statutory sentence.[2] ECF No. 79.

         On January 7, 2011, Ferguson was sentenced to a term of 120 months to be followed by a 5-year term of supervised release. ECF No. 88. He has served approximately 98 months and his projected release date is April 28, 2020. ECF No. 127 at 3.

         Ferguson seeks relief under the First Step Act. He argues that he is eligible for relief and that this court has discretion to reduce his sentence to time served. The government agrees that Ferguson is eligible for relief under the First Step Act, but urges the court to exercise its discretion and decline to reduce his sentence.

         II.

         At the time Ferguson was sentenced, a violation of § 841(a)(1) carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if the offense involved more than 50 grams of cocaine base, and a penalty range of 5 to 40 years if the offense involved more than 5 grams of cocaine base. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) and (B) (2006). In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act was passed, and Section 2 of the Act reduced penalties for offenses involving cocaine base by increasing the threshold drug quantities required to trigger mandatory minimum sentences under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1). Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-220, § 2, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010). Currently, in order to trigger the 10-years-to-life-sentencing range, the offense must involve more than 280 grams of cocaine base, and to trigger the 5-to-40-year sentencing range, the offense must involve more than 28 grams of cocaine base.

         The First Step Act was passed on December 21, 2018. Section 404 of the act permits a court, upon motion of the defendant or the government, or upon its own motion, to impose a reduced sentence for certain offenses in accordance with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, if such a reduction was not previously granted. Offenses qualify for the reduction if they were committed before August 3, 2010 and carry the statutory penalties which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-015, 132 Stat. 015 (2018).

         If Ferguson were sentenced after the Fair Sentencing Act, he would be facing a statutory sentence of 5 to 40 years, increased because of the § 851 enhancement to 10-years-to-life, and a 5-year term of supervised release. In other words, he would be facing a 10-year statutory minimum sentence rather than a 20-year statutory minimum sentence, before the reduction for substantial assistance.

         Ferguson argues that modification of his sentence is appropriate and consistent with the aims of the Fair Sentencing Act He urges the court to take into account his personal difficulties as set out in the PSR, including the absence of his father, the fact that his mother was a heroin addict who was "in and out" of his life, that he lived with his grandparents, both of whom died before Ferguson was 23, his long history of drug abuse, his limited ninth-grade education, and his relatively low IQ. ECF No. 125. In addition, Ferguson points out that he had a relatively minor role in the offense and ...


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