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United States v. Burns

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 14, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT CHARLES BURNS (2), Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO REDUCE SENTENCE

          HON. JEFFREY T. MILLER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Robert Charles Burns (“Defendant”) moves to reduce his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(2) and Amendment 782 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”) (the “Motion”). The Government opposes the Motion. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(d)(1), the court finds the matters presented appropriate for resolution without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for reduction of sentence is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 22, 1998, the United States filed a five-count Superseding Indictment in the Southern District of California charging Defendant and others with Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine, Distribution of Cocaine and Possession of Cocaine with the Intent to Distribute. On May 27, 1998, the United States filed an information, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, alleging that Defendant had sustained prior drug felony convictions, which exposed Defendant to a potential maximum sentence of life. Defendant's trial commenced on May 27, 1998, and on June 5, 1998, the jury found Defendant guilty on all counts. On December 4, 1998, the Court sentenced Defendant to 360 months custody, followed by 10 years of supervised release on all five counts, to be served concurrently.

         To arrive at this sentence, the Court calculated a base offense level of 32, based upon 10 kilograms of cocaine, and then increased the base offense level to 37 because Defendant was a Career Offender and the statutory maximum for the offenses, as a result of the 21 U.S.C. § 851 Information, was life. With a Criminal History Category VI, the guideline range was thus 360 months to life.

         On March 2, 2017, Defendant filed a petition to reduce his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Federal Defenders initially reviewed the Motion. On or about April 19, 2017, the court granted Defendant's Motion to appoint retained counsel, John Lanahan, Esq.

         DISCUSSION

         Legal Standard

         In general, a federal court cannot modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). However, one exception to the general rule permits the district court to modify an imposed sentence where the sentencing guideline range has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission. 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(2). Section 3582(c)(2) requires a two-step inquiry. Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 826 (2010). First, the district court must determine that a modification is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission, namely U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10. Then, and only then, does the district court go on to the second step of considering the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and deciding in its discretion whether the authorized reduction is warranted. Id. at 827.

         Amendment 782 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines revised the guidelines applicable to drug-trafficking offenses by reducing the Base Offense Level by two levels for most drug offenses listed in the Drug Quantities Tables at U.S.S.G. §§ 2D1.1 and 2D1.11. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual app. C, amend. 782 (2014); see also U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(d), (e)(1) (making Amendment 782 apply retroactively to previously-sentenced defendants). When determining whether a reduction is warranted, the district court must determine what the defendant's advisory guideline range would be under the amendment. In doing so, the district court “shall substitute only the amendments . . . for the corresponding guideline provisions that were applied when the defendant was sentenced and shall leave all other guideline application decisions unaffected.” Id. § 1B1.10(b)(1). Eligibility for a § 3582(c)(2) reduction is triggered only if an amendment lowers the “applicable guideline range (i.e., the guideline range that corresponds to the offense level and criminal history category determined pursuant to § 1B1.1(a), which is determined before consideration of any departure provision in the Guidelines Manual or any variance).” Id. cmt. n.1(A) (second emphasis added).

         The court is not authorized to reduce a defendant's term of imprisonment if an amendment does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range. Id. § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B), cmt. n. 1(A). The court also cannot reduce the defendant's sentence lower than the low end of the amended guideline range. Id. cmt. n.3. The only exception is if the defendant received a downward departure based on substantial assistance to the government, in which case the court may reduce the defendant's sentence below the low end of the amended guideline range by a comparable percentage. Id.

         Application of Amendment 782

         At the time of the original sentencing, the court applied a Base Offense Level of 37 because Defendant was a Career Offender and the statutory maximum for the offenses, as a result of the 21 U.S.C. § 851 Information, was life. With a Criminal History Category VI, the guideline range was thus 360 months to life. Defendant's Base Offense Level of 37, pursuant to § 4B1.1, remains the same today as it was at the time of sentencing. Amendment 782 does not apply to reduce Defendant's sentence.

         Defendant does not dispute that Amendment 782 affords no sentencing relief. Rather, Defendant contends that “gross sentencing disparity exists between himself and co-defendant Louis Sauza-Martinez as a result of the reversal and remand of Sauza-Martinez's conviction, where Sauza-Martinez was sentenced to 151 months in prison, for relevant conduct under USSG §1B1.3 that was the same as that of Mr. Burns, who has a similar criminal history.” (Reply at p.7:11-15). The difficulty with this argument is that the court's authority to reduce Defendant's sentence under Amendment 782 is limited to those situations where the Base Offense Level has been reduced ...


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