Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Crack reduction cases: Court upholds denial of proportional reductions below amended guideline range to account for variance in original sentence

In United States v. Berberena (Sept. 11, 2012), , the Court affirmed denials of sentence reductions below the amended Guideline range in two crack reduction cases. When Amendment 750 to the Sentencing Guidelines implemented the Fair Sentencing Act by reducing the crack-powder disparity, the defendants moved for sentence reductions under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Both defendants had received below Guideline sentences. In making Amendment 750 retroactive, the Sentencing Commission also adopted a new version of U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10, the policy statement governing “Reduction in Term of Imprisonment as a Result of Amended Guideline Range.” As amended, §1B1.10 provides that “the court shall not reduce the defendant’s term of imprisonment . . . to a term that is less than the minimum of the amended guideline range.” § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) (Nov. 2011). The one exception is for defendants who provided substantial assistance to the government. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) (Nov. 2011). Before the 2011 amendments, the Guidelines permitted proportional reductions in sentence to account for departures of any kind, although they were discouraged when a below Guidelines sentence was based on a variance. § 1B1.10(b)(1)(B) (Nov. 2007). Here, neither defendant had cooperated and the District Courts denied sentence reductions below the amended Guideline range. The Third Circuit rejected the defendants’ three challenges to the binding policy statement in § 1B1.10. First, the Court found the Sentencing Commission had the statutory authority under the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA), 28 U.S.C. § 994, to limit the sentencing reductions in 3582 proceedings. Next, the Court found that the policy statement did not violate separation-of-power principles: it was not an impermissible delegation of legislative authority, nor did it infringe upon the exercise of judicial authority because the Commission was appropriately situated within the judiciary. Finally, the Court found that the Commission was not required to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment requirements when issuing policy statements.

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