Wednesday, June 16, 2021

When resentencing a defendant pursuant to the First-Step Act, a court must recalculate the Sentencing Guidelines and consider all §3553(a) factors anew, but it cannot reexamine or reevaluate facts established and accepted at the time of the original sentencing.

 

United States v. Murphy, No, 20-1411 (3d Cir. 5/27/2021)

 

 

In 2009 Mr. Murphy was convicted by a jury of two counts of possession of cocaine and heroin and received 360 months incarceration. In 2019 he sought resentencing under the First Step Act. The Probation officer filed an addendum to the pre-sentence report decreasing the guidelines range to 262 -327 months. However, it retained the previously attributed drug amount as well as the career offender designation, both of which Mr. Murphy objected to. The Court overruled both objections, finding that the First Step Act did not allow reconsideration of either factor. It did however vary downward from the Guidelines range and sentenced him to 210 months incarceration. Mr. Murphy appealed. 

 

         The panel rejected Mr. Murphy’s contention that Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013) required a reassessment of the amount of drugs, as his verdict complied with that decision. However, the panel found that since the court was “imposing” a sentence, and it must therefore apply the § 3553(a) factors as they stand at the time of resentencing. The new assessment must include any relevant facts that did not exist at the time of the original sentencing, but not a reconsideration of the facts as they stood at the time of the original sentencing. Therefore, the District Court could not reconsider the prior drug-quantity finding.

 

The panel also concluded that the District Court did not err by refusing to reconsider the career offender calculation. The government conceded that a change in Maryland law since the time of sentencing meant that a Maryland conviction used to classify Mr. Murphy as a career offender would if he was sentenced now, no longer do so. The panel though adopted the approach of the Sixth Circuit that holds that under ¶404(b) of the First Step act, resentencing “includes an accurate calculation of the amended guidelines range at the time of resentencing and a thorough renewed consideration of the §3553(a) factors.” The judge at the new sentencing is also free to depart or vary from the Guidelines range as she sees fit. The panel rejected different approaches by other circuits. The panel also rejected the government’s contention that failure to reconsider the §3553(a) factors was harmless error.   

 

Judge Bibas’s dissent took note of the three-way split among the circuits on recalculation of the Guuidelines range at the time of sentencing. He would not allow the Guidelines to be recalculated. 


Image from https://federalprisonauthority.com/podcast-first-step-act-questions-answered/.

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