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U.S. v. MEDJUCK

July 8, 2004.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL MEDJUCK, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VAUGHN WALKER, District Judge

ORDER

Pursuant to FRCrP 35(b)(2)(A), the government has moved the court to reduce the sentence originally imposed upon defendant Michael Medjuck, based upon defendant's substantial assistance to authorities in the investigation and prosecution of individuals involved in smuggling and distributing drugs at the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois. Doc # 1601. The defendant agrees that his sentence should be reduced, but seeks a significantly larger reduction than the government has requested.

For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS the government's motion (Doc # 1601) and reduces defendant's sentence to time served. I

  Much of the factual background regarding defendant's crime is thoroughly described in the Ninth Circuit's opinion in United States v. Medjuck, 48 F.3d 1107 (9th Cir 1995), and the court need not repeat those facts here. Briefly, defendant and several others were apprehended by United States authorities while bringing a boatload of hashish from Pakistan to Canada. Def Resp (Doc # 1604) at 9:10-12. Defendant was arrested in September 1991 and has been incarcerated since that date. Id at 1:3 n1, 9:12. Defendant was charged under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), 46 U.S.C. § 1903, for possession of hashish on the high seas. Defendant was also charged with various other drug crimes under Title 21. Id at 9:12-21; see also Doc # 243.

  Following a lengthy challenge to the indictment on the grounds that an insufficient nexus existed between the drugs and the United States, defendant was tried and was then convicted only of the MDLEA charges. Def Resp at 11:1-13; see also Doc # 1272. On July 26, 1996, District Judge Eugene F Lynch employed level 40 of the Sentencing Guidelines to sentence defendant to 292 months in custody, as well as a ten-year supervised release period and a $250,000 fine. Decl John J E Markham (Markham Decl; Doc # 1605) at 2 ¶ 9, Exh 7; see also Doc # 1317.

  The matter was eventually reassigned to the undersigned on July 15, 1997. Doc # 1436. On April 8, 2004, some thirteen years after defendant was initially taken into custody, the government filed a Rule 35(b) motion to reduce defendant's sentence for substantial assistance, requesting that defendant's prison term be reduced from 292 months to 240 months. Doc # 1601. According to the government's papers, from October 2000 through October 2003, defendant assisted the government in investigating and prosecuting drug smuggling and distribution involving prison personnel in a federal detention facility in Illinois. See Gov't Mot (Doc # 1601), Exh A. The government contends that 240 months is the mandatory minimum sentence, taking into account defendant's substantial assistance, and, moreover, that the court has no discretion to order defendant's sentence reduced further without a specific request from the government. On April 27, 2004, defendant filed a response to the government's motion, contending that he is entitled to have his sentence reduced to time served (now roughly 154 months) and to be released immediately. Doc # 1604. The court took oral argument on the motion at a May 27, 2004 hearing.

  To resolve the government's motion, the court must examine three issues: (1) whether the court has authority to reduce defendant's sentence below the statutory minimum; (2) whether the statute under which defendant was sentenced carries a statutory minimum; and (3) what level of sentence reduction is warranted.

  II

  A

  Although the government and the defendant agree that a sentence reduction is warranted, given defendant's substantial assistance, they disagree about the law that governs the court's authority to do this. The government's position is that the court may not reduce a sentence below the statutory minimum unless the government files a separate motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e), while defendant contends that the text of Rule 35(b) gives the court all the authority necessary to make such a departure. For purposes of deciding this issue, the court assumes arguendo that the 20-year mandatory minimum suggested by the government is applicable, although, as detailed in section II B below, the court holds that there is no statutory minimum in this case.

  The court begins with the text of the relevant rules and statutes. As the government points out, 18 U.S.C. § 3553 contains the guidelines the court must follow when imposing a sentence. That statute allows the court to impose a sentence that is less than the statutory minimum to reflect the defendant's substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another individual. See § 3553(e). By the plain language of the statute, however, the court's authority to impose such a sentence is limited to situations in which the government expressly moves to impose a sentence below the statutory minimum. See id (granting the court this authority "[u]pon motion of the Government"); see also Melendez v. United States, 518 U.S. 120, 125-26 (1996).

  But by its own terms, § 3553(e) applies to situations in which the court imposes a sentence. When the court instead modifies a previously-imposed term of imprisonment, its authority to do so is found in 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). That section allows the court to modify a defendant's term of imprisonment under certain circumstances and expressly authorizes the court to modify a prison term to the extent permitted under Rule 35. See § 3582(c)(1)(B). Rule 35, in turn, governs the court's exercise of discretion in correcting or reducing a sentence.

  Rule 35 expressly provides that, upon the government's motion to reduce a sentence under subsection (b), the court "may reduce the sentence to a level below the minimum sentence established by statute." See FRCrP 35(b)(4). Unlike § 3553(e), neither § 3582 nor Rule 35 contains any language limiting the court's authority in this regard to cases in which the government expressly has moved to reduce a sentence below the statutory minimum. The plain language of § 3582 and Rule 35, therefore, support defendant's position that the court may, under Rule 35(b), reduce a prison sentence below the statutory minimum.

  The government nonetheless argues that, the court may not reduce a defendant's sentence to below the statutory minimum unless the government moves to do so, citing Melendez, a case that involved the initial imposition of a sentence under § 3553(e), rather than the later reduction of a sentence. In Melendez, the government moved under § 5K1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines to depart downward from the sentencing range set by the Guidelines. Melendez, 518 US at 123. The defendant argued that the government's motion pursuant to § ...


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