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United States v. Sanchez

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 18, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff,
v.
RALPH SANCHEZ, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Ralph Sanchez's Motion to Reduce Sentence [Doc. 96] and Response to Probation Memo [Doc. 102]. The Government responded to both motions. [Doc. 107] The Court has considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and is otherwise fully informed. For the following reasons, the Court DISMISSES Defendant's Motions.

         I. Background

         Defendant was charged in a three-count indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, contrary to 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2); possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, contrary to 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); and carrying and possessing a firearm during and in relation to and in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). [Doc. 2; Doc. 15 (superseding indictment)] He entered into a plea agreement in June, 2010. [Doc. 75] In the agreement, Defendant agreed to plead guilty to Count 2, possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, and to a 12-year sentence pursuant to 11(c)(1)(C) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. [Doc. 75, ¶4.a] The Court accepted the plea agreement and, consistent with the agreement, sentenced Defendant to 12 years imprisonment in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. [Doc. 81] Judgment was entered in April, 2011. [Doc. 87]

         Acting pro se, Defendant first moved for a modification of his sentence in December, 2012, citing Amendment 750 to the Sentencing Guidelines. [Doc. 88] “[I]n response to the Fair Sentencing Act [of 2010, Pub. L. 111-220], the Sentencing Commission promulgated Amendment 750, which reduced the base offense levels for various quantities of crack cocaine. . . . With Congress's acquiescence, the Sentencing Commission applied Amendment 750 retroactively.” United States v. Kinchion, 592 F. App'x 721, 724 (10th Cir. 2014) (citing the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual, App. C, Amend. 750 (2011). In June, 2013, after the Government responded to the motion, [Doc. 91], the Court appointed counsel for Defendant and ordered Defendant to reply to the Government's response. [Doc. 92; Doc. 93] Nearly two years later, in March and April 2015, again acting pro se, Defendant filed two more motions for reduction of his sentence. [Doc. 94; Doc. 96] Substitute counsel for Defendant was appointed. [Doc. 95] In July 2015, the Court denied Defendant's pro se Motion to Reduce Sentence. [Doc. 96; Doc. 97] However, Defendant's counsel moved the Court to withdraw its order denying the Motion and permit counsel “adequate time to investigate the motion.” [Doc. 98] The Court granted counsel's Motion and withdrew the denial of Defendant's pro se Motion. [Doc. 96; Doc. 97; Doc. 99]

         Counsel filed its Response to Probation Memo [Doc. 102] in August 2015, and, pursuant to an order by this Court, the Government responded in November 2015. [Doc. 107]

         II. Discussion

         A. Eligibility

         Generally, courts lack jurisdiction to modify a sentence after it has been imposed. United States v. Jones, 634 F. App'x 649, 650 (10th Cir. 2015). However, Congress has granted permission to reduce a sentence under specific circumstances. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Specifically,

[t]he court may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed except that . . . in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 994(o), upon motion of the defendant or the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, or on its own motion, the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) (Emphasis added). The “policy statements” referenced are found in § 1B1.10 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. See Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 821 (2010) (stating that § 1B1.10 is the “relevant policy statement” to which § 3582 refers). That section provides in part that

(1) In General.--In a case in which a defendant is serving a term of imprisonment, and the guideline range applicable to that defendant has subsequently been lowered as a result of an amendment to the Guidelines Manual listed in subsection (d) below, the court may reduce the defendant's term of imprisonment as provided by 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). As required by 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), any such reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment shall be consistent with this policy statement.

U.S.S.G. 1B1.10(a)(1) (Emphasis added).

         Taken together, Sections 3582(c)(2) and 1B1.10(a)(1) require a two-step inquiry. “Under step one of this inquiry, . . . ‘§ 3582(c)(2) requires [a district] court to follow the [Sentencing] Commission's instructions in § 1B1.10 to determine the prisoner's eligibility for a sentence modification and the extent of the reduction authorized' [and o]nly if a district court ‘determine[s] that a reduction is consistent with § 1B1.10' may it proceed to step two of the inquiry.” United States v. McGee, 615 F.3d 1287, 1292 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Dillon, 560 U.S. at 827) (second alteration added). If a defendant is not eligible for a reduction, the district court lacks jurisdiction to reduce the sentence and the defendant's motion must be dismissed. Jones, 634 F. App'x at 652 (holding that where a defendant's “rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement was not based on a sentencing range that has since been lowered, the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider [the defendant's] motion” and should have dismissed the motion rather than deny it). “‘At step two of the inquiry, . . . § 3582(c)(2) instructs a [district] court to ...


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