Sentence Reductions (Part 2)

by | Dec 17, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Assault | Criminal Defense LawyerJustice Alito continued: Petitioners do not qualify for sentence reductions under §3582(c)(2) because their sentences were not “based on” their lowered Guidelines ranges but, instead, were “based on” their mandatory minimums and on their substantial assistance to the Government. For a sentence to be “based on” a lowered Guidelines range, the range must have at least played “a relevant part in the framework the sentencing judge used” in imposing the sentence. Hughes v. United States, ante, at _.

Petitioners’ sentences do not fall into this category because the District Court did not consider the Guidelines ranges in imposing its ultimate sentences. On the contrary, the court scrapped the ranges in favor of the mandatory minimums and never considered the ranges again. Thus, petitioners may not receive §3582(c)(2) sentence reductions.

Petitioners’ four counterarguments are unavailing. First, they insist that because this Court has said that the Guidelines ranges serve as “the starting point for every sentencing calculation in the federal system,” Peugh v. United States, 569 U. S. 530, 542, all sentences are “based on” Guidelines ranges. But that does not follow. Just because district courts routinely calculate defendants’ Guidelines ranges does not mean that any sentence subsequently imposed must be regarded as “based on” a Guidelines range. What matters instead is the role that the Guidelines range played in the selection of the sentence eventually imposed. And here the ranges played no relevant role.

Second, petitioners argue that even if their sentences were not actually based on the Guidelines ranges, they are eligible under §3582(c)(2) because their sentences should have been based on those ranges. But even assuming that this is the correct interpretation of “based on,” petitioners are not eligible because the District Court made no mistake in sentencing them. The court properly discarded their Guidelines ranges and permissibly considered only factors related to substantial assistance when departing downward. Third, petitioners stress that the Sentencing Commission’s policy statement shows that defendants in their shoes should be eligible for sentence reductions. Policy statements, however, cannot make defendants eligible when §3582(c)(2) makes them ineligible. Fourth, petitioners contend that the Court’s rule creates unjustifiable sentencing disparities, but, in fact, the rule avoids such disparities. Identically situated defendants sentenced today may receive the same sentences petitioners received, and those defendants, like petitioners, are not eligible for sentence reductions under §3582(c)(2).

The Court’s analysis begs two questions. The first is whether the defendants would have received lesser sentences had they not cooperated at all. The second is whether they would have cooperated if they knew how their sentences would unfold.