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United States v. Valentine

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 2, 2019





         A jury found Defendant Valentine guilty of committing a Section 841(b)(1)(A) crack cocaine offense in February 2000. The conviction happened in a different era of federal penalty and sentencing law. At the time, it was up to the Judge, not the Jury, to determine the quantity of drugs involved. So, the Indictment did not allege, and the Jury was not asked to consider, any specific quantity of narcotics attributable to Defendant Valentine. Instead Judge Enslen, who presided over Defendant Valentine's jury trial and sentencing, concluded that the quantity of crack cocaine attributable to Defendant Valentine exceeded 1.5 kilograms. This was sufficient at the time to trigger a sentencing range of 10 years minimum to life imprisonment under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b), as well as to trigger the highest possible base level offense under the guidelines. On May 19, 2000, Judge Enslen sentenced Defendant Valentine to 292 months imprisonment, the bottom end of the then mandatory guideline range. Defendant Valentine was 36 years old at the time.

         The matter before the Court is Defendant Valentine's motion for modification or reduction in sentence under the newly enacted First Step Act, which provides for the retroactive application of certain sentencing reforms contained in the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. (ECF No. 1043). The Court appointed counsel to assist Defendant Valentine with his First Step motion. Both sides have filed briefs. The government responds that Defendant Valentine is ineligible for a reduction in sentence because the judge-found quantities of crack cocaine attributable to Defendant Valentine are more than enough to meet the higher thresholds established by the Fair Sentencing Act. The defense counters that Defendant Valentine is eligible, and requests the Court exercise its discretion to reduce his sentence.

         The Court finds that Defendant Valentine is eligible for relief under the First Step Act. Accordingly, the Court can and does exercise its discretion under the First Step Act to relieve Defendant Valentine of the mandatory-minimum sentence originally applicable to his crack cocaine offense, and to reduce Defendant Valentine's sentence of imprisonment to time served as provided in this Opinion and corresponding Order.


         1. Defendant Valentine's Conviction, Sentence, and Collateral Attacks

         A Superseding Indictment charged Defendant Valentine with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a), 846. Defendant, and several of his co-defendants, proceeded to trial and a two-week jury trial ensued. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals previously summarized the trial testimony as follows:

Between 1991 and 1999, Kenneth, Corey, Johnny, and Jimmy Ray Valentine were involved in a large-scale drug operation in Benton Harbor, Michigan. *** During trial, Jerry Lee Butler testified that he supplied the Defendants with kilogram quantities of crack cocaine in Mariana, Arkansas. Butler estimated that he sold approximately 50 kilograms of crack cocaine to Kenneth, Corey, Johnny, and Jimmy Ray between 1994 and 1998. Specifically, he testified that he sold between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half kilograms to Jimmy Ray and Kenneth two or four separate times, that Jimmy Ray and Kenneth arranged for several other deliveries that Corey or Johnny would pick up, that Corey made approximately twenty trips to Arkansas to pick up one-and-a-half to three kilograms of crack cocaine at a time, and that Johnny picked up drugs on three to five occasions.
Yusef Phillips, another government witness, testified that in 1995, he partnered with the Valentines to purchase drugs from Butler. Phillips also testified that he obtained other suppliers for the Valentines: one in Michigan that supplied ounce-quantity amounts six or seven times, and one in California that supplied kilogram-quantity amounts five or six times. Overall, Phillips estimated that between 1995 and 1998, the Valentines distributed three kilograms of crack cocaine per month, roughly 75 kilograms, with about 60 kilograms coming from Jerry Lee Butler.
On February 11, 2000, the jury found Kenneth, Corey, Johnny, and Jimmy Ray guilty on one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute crack cocaine.

United States v. Valentine, 694 F.3d 665, 667 (6th Cir. 2012)

         The case proceeded to sentencing. As previously summarized by this Court:

There were basically three disputed facts at the sentencing hearing. First, Defendant challenged the PSR conclusion that the drug quantity exceeded 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine. Second, defendant challenged the PSR conclusion that a weapon enhancement was appropriate under the guidelines. Third, defendant challenged the PSR conclusion that a role enhancement of 4 points was appropriate. Judge Enslen rejected the quantity objection and concluded that the drug quantity did exceed 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine, which was sufficient at the time to trigger the highest possible base level offense under the applicable guideline (LO 38). Judge Enslen accepted the defense objection to the weapon enhancement, and further found that only a 2 point role enhancement was appropriate. The net result of these determinations left Defendant with a mandatory guideline range of 292-365 months (LO 40; CH I), rather than the mandatory life guideline that would have been in effect under the PSR conclusions. Judge Enslen made it plain he thought the punishment ranges were excessive, and he ultimately imposed the lowest possible sentence of 292 months based on his findings and the mandatory guidelines in effect at the time.

(ECF No. 802, PageID.1319).

         Defendant's conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. United States v. Valentine, 70 Fed.Appx. 314 (6th Cir. 2003). The Sixth Circuit also rejected all but one of Defendant's collateral challenges under Section 2255 and remanded a single ineffective assistance of counsel claim for an evidentiary hearing. Valentine v. United States, 488 F.3d 325 (6th Cir. 2007). This Court held the evidentiary hearing and rejected the claim on its merits. (ECF No. 694).

         2. Earlier Motions to Reduce Sentence

          Following the Court's denial of Defendant Valentine's outstanding Section 2255 claim, the only remaining issue of record was Defendant's motions for a sentence reduction under the retroactive sentencing guideline amendments for certain crack cocaine offenses. For each round, however, sentencing guideline policy statements barred Defendant's ability to realize any reduction in sentence.

         With respect to the first round, the Probation Office prepared a Sentence Modification Report that concluded Defendant Valentine was ineligible for consideration of a reduced sentence. This was because the quantity of crack involved was enough to trigger the same base level offense of 38 under the new guidelines for offenses involving at least 4.5 kilograms of crack. This Court disagreed and originally determined on the unique record of the case that Judge Enslen had effectively made a quantity finding that precluded additional judicial fact finding of a quantity above 1.5 kilograms. Accordingly, this Court made no new factual findings at the time, noting only that the record would have permitted Judge Enslen to make and support a variety of different quantity ...

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