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United States v. Maze

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

October 17, 2019

JOSEPH MAZE, Defendant.




         In November 2007, a jury convicted Defendant Maze of possession with intent to distribute at least five grams of crack cocaine. The government had a Section 851 Notice on file reporting four prior felony drug offense convictions. At the time of Defendant Maze's sentencing in December of 2008, [1] this exposed him to a statutory penalty range of ten years to life in prison. He was twenty-five years old at the time.

         The matter before the Court is Defendant Maze'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. 69). The Court appointed counsel to assist Defendant Maze with his First Step motion. Both sides have filed briefs. The government responds that Defendant Maze 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 Maze is currently serving. (ECF No. 76). The defense argues that nothing within the First Step Act precludes a further reduction to take into account the Court's earlier variance as applied to the reduced guideline range. (ECF No. 77).

         The Court finds that Defendant Maze 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 Maze of the mandatory-minimum sentence originally applicable to his crack cocaine offense, and to reduce Defendant Maze's sentence as provided in this Opinion and corresponding Order.


         1. Defendant Maze's Charge & Conviction

         On June 21, 2007, two officers with the Grand Rapids Police Department made contact with Defendant outside of the Wealthy Street Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan.[2] When an officer stepped out of the patrol car to question Defendant, Defendant ran and ignored the officer's command to stop. A pursuit ensued, during which the officer observed a clear plastic bag fall to the ground. Other officers then caught up to Defendant and placed him under arrest. The clear plastic bag was found near where Defendant was arrested, and the pursuing officer confirmed this was the bag he had seen fall to the ground while chasing Defendant. The bag contained approximately 7.53 grams of crack cocaine.

         A Grand Jury charged Defendant Maze with possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1); (b)(1)(B)(iii) on July 11, 2007. (ECF No. 1). On November 1, 2007, a jury found Defendant Maze guilty of the charge, specifically finding that the quantity of crack cocaine involved in the offense was at least five grams of crack cocaine, the highest quantity determination the verdict form asked the jury to reach. (ECF No. 29).

         2. PSR & Sentencing

         The Final Presentence Report (PSR) prepared by the probation officer found that Defendant Maze was responsible for 7.53 grams of crack cocaine. (PSR ¶ 24). The quantity triggered an initial base offense level of 24 which was also the total drug offense level.[3] (PSR ¶¶ 24, 31).

         The PSR determined, however, that Defendant Maze qualified as a career offender because he committed the offense of conviction after sustaining two prior felony convictions for a controlled substance offense. (PSR ¶ 32). Since the statutory maximum penalty for the offense of conviction with a prior conviction for a felony drug offense was life imprisonment under Section 841(b)(1)(B)(iii), the guidelines called for a career offender offense level of 37. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b)(A) (2009). Level 37 being higher than the offense level calculated under Section 2D1.1, the career offender offense level took precedence and became Defendant Maze's total offense level. (PSR ¶ 34).

         The officer then scored Defendant's criminal history at fourteen points, resulting in a criminal history category of VI.[4] (PSR ¶ 57). The guideline range for the conviction, based on a career offender total offense level of 37 and criminal history category of VI was 360 months to life on the chart. (PSR ¶ 96).[5] At the sentencing hearing, the Court varied downward and imposed a sentence of 240 months custody. The Court found this to be an appropriate sentence based on a variety of considerations, including the Section 3353 factors:

I'm not prepared to say that this is a case for the mandatory minimum of 120 months. I don't think that would be sufficient. But I'm not prepared to say that this is an appropriate case for 30 years or 360 months either. The Court believes that this is a situation that calls for a sentence somewhere between those two, and the Court's intended sentence for terms of incarceration is 240 months, which is 20 years. Still a very lengthy sentence in the Court's view given the overall circumstances of this offense. I think that 240 months reflects fairly and justly the overall range of what happened here, both what was specifically the offense of conviction, the significant criminal history that I see . . . and still reflects room to allow that career offender guideline to function, and even more severe levels when the person involved and in the front of the Court has what I would call added culpability factors such as those that I noted that were absent in this case.

(ECF No. 56, PageID.228). Judgment entered on December 22, 2008. (ECF No. 54).

         3. Post Sentencing Matters

         The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence on June 25, 2010. United States v. Maze, No. 09-1051 (6th Cir. June 25, 2010). This Court then denied Defendant Maze's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Maze v. United States, No. 1:11-cv-1007 (W.D. Mich. May 21, 2012). The Court subsequently transferred a second or successive Section 2255 motion to the Court of Appeals on June 7, 2016. Maze v. United States, No. 1:16-cv-568 (W.D. Mich. June 7, 2016). On October 5, 2016, the Court of Appeals denied Defendant Maze's motion for authorization to file a second or successive ...

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