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United States v. Hughes

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

September 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ALBERT PETER HUGHES, Defendant.

          OPINION REGARDING DEFENDANT HUGHES’S FIRST STEP ACT MOTION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Defendant Hughes pleaded guilty to a Section 841(b)(1)(A) crack cocaine offense; a Section 841(b)(1)(C) powder cocaine offense; a Section 922(g) firearm offense; and a Section 924(c) firearm offense in July 2008. The crack cocaine offense exposed Defendant to a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison and a maximum of life. He was sentenced in May 2009 to a total term of 181 months imprisonment. He was twenty-seven years old at the time.

         The matter before the Court is Defendant Hughes’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. 82). The Court appointed counsel to assist Defendant Hughes with his First Step motion. Both sides have filed briefs asserting that Defendant Hughes is eligible for a reduced sentence.

         The Court agrees and finds that Hughes is eligible for relief under the First Step Act. The Court discerns no need for a hearing on the fully briefed issues. The Court can and does exercise its discretion under the First Step Act to reduce Defendant Hughes’s sentence as provided in this Opinion and corresponding Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has previously summarized the events leading to Defendant’s criminal conviction:

On March 25, 2008, a 911 call reporting an assault of a female by her boyfriend led police officers to respond to defendant's apartment in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Defendant answered the door, said he was alone, and allegedly permitted the officers to enter to determine whether anyone inside was injured. Despite defendant's attempt to hide it, the officers saw marijuana and crack cocaine in plain view in the living room. A protective sweep of the area where defendant was asked to sit revealed a loaded Cobray 9mm rifle and a loaded Femaru 9mm semiautomatic pistol between the cushions of the loveseat and couch. The premises were secured while a search warrant was obtained, and the subsequent search resulted in the discovery of 64 grams of crack cocaine and 116 grams of powder cocaine.
A four-count Indictment filed on May 6, 2008, charged defendant with possessing with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base, possessing with intent to distribute powder cocaine, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. Unwilling to cooperate as required by the government's proposed plea agreement, but wanting to avoid an enhancement of the mandatory minimum sentence from 10 years to 20 years that would result from the anticipated filing of a supplemental information, defendant pleaded guilty as charged following extensive questioning by the district court during the July 21, 2008 change-of-plea hearing.

United States v. Hughes, 392 F. App’x 382, 383 (6th Cir. 2010).

         The Final Presentence Report (PSR) prepared by the probation officer found that Defendant Hughes was responsible for 64.19 grams of crack cocaine and 123.16 grams of powder cocaine. At the time, this was equivalent to 24.62 kilograms of marijuana. (PSR ¶ 16). He was further found responsible for the Cobray 9mm rifle and the Femaru 9mm semiautomatic pistol. (Id.) The Sentencing Guidelines commentary was then used to calculate Defendant’s initial base offense level of 30. (PSR ¶ 30; see U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1. cmts. 10(B) and 10(D)(i)). That level subsequently became Defendant’s total offense level for purposes of determining the guidelines for the first three counts. (PSR ¶ 42). The officer then scored four criminal history points, corresponding to a criminal history category of III. On the chart, Defendant’s guideline range was 121-151 months on the first three counts. Defendant’s conviction for Count 4 then required the minimum term of imprisonment required by statute, or five years consecutive with the other terms. U.S.S.G. § 2K2.4(b).

         At the April 30, 2009 sentencing, the Court overruled the defense objection to the probation officer’s decision not to reduce Defendant’s level of offense to account for his acceptance of responsibility, and imposed a sentence of 181 months imprisonment, consisting of concurrent terms of 121 months on Count 1, 121 months on Count 2, and 120 months on Count 3.[1] The Court imposed a consecutive sentence of 60 months with respect to Count 4 resulting in a total term of imprisonment of 181 months. (ECF No. 49). An initial remand by the Sixth Circuit resulted in the same sentence on January 28, 2011.[2] (ECF No. 71, 72). The resentencing, however, raised a novel issue: whether the sentencing reforms provided in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372, which was enacted after his original sentence should apply to the resentencing. The Court concluded it did not apply, and in a published decision the Sixth Circuit affirmed the Court’s decision. United States v. Hughes, 733 F.3d 642 (6th Cir. 2013). Since then Defendant Hughes has unsuccessfully pursued collateral relief in a Section 2255 action. Hughes v. United States, No. 1:16-cv-804 (W.D. Mich. Jan. 3, 2018), aff’d No. 18-1029 (6th Cir. June 14, 2018).

         On December 31, 2018, Defendant Hughes returned to his criminal case seeking relief under the First Step Act. (ECF No. 82). The Court appointed counsel to assist Defendant Hughes on April 4, 2019 (ECF No. 89). The government and Defendant have both filed briefs and supplemental briefs.

         THE FAIR SENTENCING ACT OF 2010

         In the summer of 2010 Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010). The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses by increasing the amount of crack cocaine needed to trigger the mandatory minimums established in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. United States v. Blewett, 746 F.3d 647, 649 (6th Cir. 2013) (en banc); see also Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260, 263-64 (2012). More specifically, the Fair Sentencing Act increased the threshold quantity in 21 U.S.C. § 851(b)(1)(A)(iii) from 50 grams or more of crack cocaine to 280 grams or more. Fair Sentencing Act at § 2(a)(1). The Fair Sentencing Act also increased the threshold quantity in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) from 5 grams or more of crack cocaine to 28 grams or more. Fair Sentencing Act at § 2(a)(2). Today, therefore, in order to trigger the ten years to life sentencing range of Section 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) that Defendant Hughes was convicted under with respect to Count 1, the offense must involve more than 280 grams of crack cocaine.

         Those changes made by the Fair Sentencing Act, however, were not retroactive. Blewett, 746 F.3d at 650.[3] Because Defendant Hughes had been convicted and sentenced before the Fair Sentencing Act’s enactment he was not, at that time, eligible for any relief.

         THE FIRST ...


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