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United States v. Payton

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

July 2, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Earl Payton, Ronald Rice, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SENTENCE REDUCTION PURSUANT TO THE FIRST STEP ACT [127, 138]

          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge.

         Among congressional efforts to fix prejudicial sentencing disparities for individuals convicted of powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenses was the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260, 273 (2012) (noting that the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack-to-powder disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1). Because Defendants Earl Payton and Ronald Rice were convicted of crack cocaine offenses in 2008, they did not benefit from the Fair Sentencing Act's remedial effects.

         By making the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, the First Step Act of 2018 presents the Court with the opportunity to impose reduced and, more importantly, fair sentences for Payton and Rice.

         “An extra year, day, or moment of freedom from prison, when warranted, is worth pursuing by a prisoner, and, if justified by the law, should be granted by the court.” United States v. Simons, 375 F.Supp.3d 379, 382 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 22, 2019) (J. Weinstein).

         For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motions for Sentence Reduction Pursuant to the First Step Act [127, 138]. The Court will impose reduced sentences for each defendant following a resentencing hearing.

         Procedural History

         A. Earl Payton

         On January 25, 2008, Payton pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances Crack/Cocaine (50 grams or more) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 (Count I).

         His Rule 11 Plea Agreement provided a Sentencing Guidelines' range of 262 to 327 months. Under the Guidelines in effect at the time, Payton was deemed a career offender based on three prior breaking and entering convictions and one felony drug conviction. The Plea Agreement, which included an enhancement under 21 U.S.C. § 851, provided a 20-year mandatory minimum. On April 24, 2008, the Court sentenced Payton to 300 months (25 years) of imprisonment on Count I.

         On March 29, 2019, Payton filed a Request for Appointment of Counsel [134]. On April 24, 2019, he filed a Motion for Reconsideration of Sentence [138] under the First Step Act. On April 30, 2019, the Court issued an Order [139] appointing counsel and determining that the First Step Act applied to Payton, but requesting additional briefing on the scope of relief to which he may be entitled under the Act.

         B. Ronald Rice

         On April 24, 2008, Rice pleaded guilty to: Possession with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substances Crack/Cocaine (5 grams or more) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count IV); and Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Armed Career Criminal in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and (e) (Count V).

         His Rule 11 Plea Agreement provided a Guidelines' range of 188 to 235 months. Under the Guidelines in effect at the time, Rice was deemed a career offender and an armed career criminal, based in part on one attempted armed robbery conviction and two breaking and entering convictions. The Plea Agreement provided a 15-year mandatory minimum on Count V pursuant to the Armed Criminal Career Act (“ACCA”). On Aril 24, 2008, the Court sentenced Rice to 235 months of imprisonment (19 years, 7 months) on Counts IV and V to run concurrent as to each count and as to his state sentence.

         On January 16, 2019, Rice filed a Motion for Appointment of Counsel [126] and a Motion for Sentence Reduction Pursuant to the First Step Act [127]. On March 8, 2019, the Court appointed counsel. On April 11, 2019, the Court issued an Order [136] determining that the First Step Act applied to Rice, but requesting additional briefing on the scope of relief to which he may be entitled under the Act.

         C. Joint Proceedings

         On May 22, 2019, the Court held a status conference at which it instructed counsel for Defendants[1] and the Government to file supplemental briefs. On June 13, 2019, defense counsel filed a Supplemental Brief [144] on behalf of both Payton and Rice. On June 14, 2019, the Government filed a Supplemental Brief [145].

         On June 20, 2019, the Court, hearing no objection, held a joint hearing on the pending motions.

         Analysis

         Section 404 of the First Step ...


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