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United States v. Buggs

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

July 22, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MARCUS WADE BUGGS, Defendant. Count 1 Original Guidelines Current Guidelines

          OPINION REGARDING DEFENDANT BUGGS'S FIRST STEP ACT MOTION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Defendant Buggs pleaded guilty to a Section 841(b)(1)(A) crack cocaine offense and a Section 924(c) firearm offense in August 2009. The crack cocaine offense exposed Defendant to a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison and a maximum of life. The firearm conviction carried a consecutive five-year mandatory minimum sentence. Defendant was sentenced as a career offender in December 2009 to a total term of 190 months imprisonment. He was twenty three years old at the time.

         The matter before the Court is Defendant Buggs'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. 127 & 131).[1] The Court appointed counsel to assist Defendant Buggs with his First Step motion. Both sides have filed briefs. The government responds that Defendant Buggs is eligible for a reduced sentence, but it contends that a reduction is not warranted here because the recalculated guideline range is still above the sentence Defendant Buggs is currently serving. (ECF No. 136).

         The defense argues the First Step Act goes further and opens the door to a plenary resentencing with the new mandatory minimum under Section 841 being the only limit. (ECF No. 88). According to the defense this means, among other things, that the Court should apply current law and revisit Defendant Buggs's career offender status. Under its analysis, the defense arrives at a recalculated guideline range that is far less than the range as calculated by the government, and it requests a revised sentence to that of time served. (ECF No. 137). The government disagrees with the defense that the First Step Act permits the type of resentencing the defense seeks.

         The Court finds that Defendant Buggs is eligible for relief under the First Step Act, but that he is not entitled to a plenary resentencing. Nor does the Court see any other need for a hearing on the fully briefed issues. The Court can and does exercise its discretion under the First Step Act to relieve Defendant Buggs of the mandatory-minimum sentence originally applicable to his crack cocaine offense, and to reduce Defendant Buggs's sentence as provided in this Opinion and corresponding Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         1. Defendant Buggs's Charge & Plea

         In April 2009, detectives with the Grand Rapids Police Department were surveilling the residence of Frederick Buggs and his cousin Defendant Marcus Buggs.[2] During their surveillance the detectives observed Frederick Buggs exit the residence and enter a vehicle on the driver's side. Defendant Marcus Buggs was sitting in the passenger's seat. The detectives knew Frederick Buggs did not have a valid driver's license, and they requested that a marked police vehicle execute a traffic stop of the vehicle.

         In the process of stopping the cousins, officers observed Defendant Marcus Buggs throwing a bag, later found to contain ¼ ounce of marijuana, from the passenger side window. Then, after stopping the vehicle, officers searched it and found a bag in the center console of the vehicle containing marijuana and Ecstasy. The cousins were arrested, and during a search of their person officers seized $3, 377.00 from Frederick Buggs and $905.00 from Marcus Buggs.

         Officers next secured and executed a search warrant of the residence. Inside they found drug paraphernalia, a .45 caliber handgun loaded with ammunition, an unloaded .22 caliber handgun with a magazine, quantities of powder and crack cocaine, and miscellaneous paperwork. The crack and powder cocaine were sent to the Michigan Department of State Police Forensic Science Division for testing. The crack cocaine was found to weigh 77.62 grams and the powder cocaine was found to weigh 99.96 grams.

         The two cousins were charged in an Indictment on May 14, 2009. With respect to Defendant Marcus Buggs, the Indictment charged him with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base (crack cocaine) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), and 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (Count 1); possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base (crack cocaine) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) (Count 4); possession of a firearm (the .45 caliber handgun) in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) (Count 6); and with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 921(a), 922(g)(1), and 924(a)(2). (ECF No. 1).

         On August 24, 2009, Defendant Marcus Buggs pleaded guilty to Counts 1 and 6 of the Indictment under the terms of a written plea agreement. (ECF No. 33). In exchange for his plea, the government agreed to move to dismiss the remaining charges against him, not to oppose a reduction of his offense level for acceptance of responsibility, and not to seek or file supplemental charges under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A), 851 that would have subjected Defendant Buggs to a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. (ECF No. 28).

         2. PSR & Sentencing

         The Final Presentence Report (PSR) prepared by the probation officer found that Defendant Marcus Buggs was responsible for 99.96 grams of powder cocaine and 77.62 grams of crack cocaine, as well as the .45 caliber handgun. (PSR ¶ 47). At the time, the quantity of narcotics was equivalent to 1, 572.38 kilograms of marijuana. (Id.). The quantity, in turn, triggered an initial base offense level of 30. After adjusting downward for acceptance of responsibility, the total drug offense level was 27. (PSR ¶ 68).[3]

         The PSR determined, however, that Defendant Buggs qualified as a career offender because he committed the offense of conviction after sustaining two prior felony convictions for a crime of violence and a controlled substance offense. (PSR ¶ 69). Since the statutory maximum penalty for the offense of conviction was life imprisonment under Section 841(b)(1)(A)(iii), the guidelines called for a career offender offense level of 34, after adjusting for acceptance of responsibility. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b)(A) (2009). Level 34 being higher than the offense level calculated under Section 2D1.1, the career offender offense level took precedence and became Defendant Buggs's total offense level. (PSR ¶ 70).

         The officer then scored Defendant's criminal history at thirteen points, resulting in a criminal history category of VI.[4] (PSR ¶ 85). The guideline range for the drug offense, based on a total offense level of 34 and criminal history category of VI was 262 to 327 months on the chart. (PSR ¶ 125).[5] The firearm conviction resulted in a 60-month consecutive sentence by statute. At the December 10, 2009 sentencing the defense objected to the career offender enhancement; the absence of a mitigating-role adjustment; the scoring of one point in Plaintiff's criminal history for an April 23, 2009 conviction in state court for use of marijuana; and the inclusion in the PSR of certain criminal conduct and arrests in Defendant's criminal history, though the latter objection did not have a direct guideline impact. The Court then overruled the defense objections and accepted the PSR's guideline determination of 262 to 327 months on the drug offense, along with the recommendation for a 60-month consecutive sentence on the firearm conviction that was mandated by statute.

         Applying the Section 3553(a) factors, the Court concluded a sentence within this guideline range was too much punishment to achieve the purposes of sentencing. The Court said as much during the hearing:

Here because of the operation of the career offender guideline, we start out at a bottom range of 262 months all the way up to 327. Plus we have 60 months as a mandatory consecutive sentence on top of that. So at the low end of the guidelines we would be at nearly 25 years.
When I look at all of that and put it together, that's too long in the Court's mind. It's not an appropriate sentence. . . . I think it's greater than necessary to comply with the purposes of the statute[.]

ECF No. 73, PageID.290). Among other things, the Court cited the need to avoid sentencing disparity (considered the co-Defendant's sentence) and Defendant's age, as factors justifying a downward variance. The Court then concluded that a modest downward variance would better reflect the sentencing considerations and, to that end, looked to what would have been the guideline range on the drug offense without the career offender enhancement-130 to 162 months. The Court found that range to be “a more accurate indicator of where the relative culpability of Marcus Buggs fits in this case, particularly when considered with the added 60 months consecutive sentence that has to happen here.” (Id. at PageID.296).

         The Court proceeded to impose a sentence of 130 months on Count 1, with the Count 6 firearms conviction carrying the mandatory consecutive sentence of 60 months, for a total of 190 months imprisonment. While the Court was satisfied this sentence properly reflected the purposes of sentencing, the Court still found the sentence to be “more than sufficient to satisfy the deterrent and punitive purposes of sentencing.” Indeed, the Court remarked “I hope not too severe.” (Id.). Judgment entered on December 11, 2009. (ECF No. 43). Defendant did file a direct appeal of his convictions or sentence.

         3. Post Sentencing Matters

         A. Government's Rule 35(b) Motion

         On December 8, 2010, the government moved for a downward departure under Rule 35(b) due to Defendant's substantial assistance to the government since his conviction and sentence. (ECF No. 52). The government requested and recommended a ten-month reduction in sentence to reflect that assistance. This resulted in a sentence reflecting the mandatory minimum on Count 1-120 months[6]-and the mandatory minimum sentence on Count-60 months. The Court ...


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