Thursday, November 01, 2012

Successive § 3582 Motions Not Jurisdictionally Barred; Defendant Whose C Plea Not Explicitly Based on Guidelines Is Not Eligible for Relief

United States v. Weatherspoon, --- F.3d ----, 2012 WL 4800974 (3d Cir. Oct. 10, 2012). After the Sentencing Commission made retroactive the amended crack offense levels in 2008, Weatherspoon sought a sentence reduction, which was rejected because he was sentenced pursuant to a binding plea agreement. Following the Supreme Court's decision in Freeman v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2685 (2011), holding that a defendant sentenced pursuant to a C plea agreement that recommends a sentence "based on" the Sentencing Guidelines is eligible for relief, Weatherspoon filed a second motion for sentence reduction.

The Circuit first addressed jurisdiction. The government argued for the first time on appeal first that § 3582(c)(2) only permits one motion for a sentence reduction and that the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the second motion, and second, that the Law of the Case Doctrine precluded review. The Circuit found it had an independent duty to determine its own and the district court’s jurisdiction., but otherwise deemed the government’s arguments waived. It held that a district court has subject matter jurisdiction to consider a second motion for relief pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. § 3582(c)(2), based on a retroactive Guidelines amendment, as Congress did not clearly state its intent to limit jurisdiction to one motion.

Reaching the merits of Weatherspoon’s appeal, the Circuit found that his sentence, stated in the "c" plea, was not explicitly based on his Sentencing Guidelines range so as to permit a sentence reduction under Freeman v. United States. Here, the agreement provided for a fixed sentence of 120 months’ imprisonment. Looking to the "four corners of the plea agreement," the Court concluded that the agreement was not clear that the sentence was based on the Guidelines. The agreement did not in any way identify or rely on the range. Because the agreement was not explicitly based on his Guidelines range, the district court properly denied Weatherspoon’s motion.

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The District Court's indication of the sentence it would impose before the defendant allocuted was not reversible plain error.

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