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United States v. Wilson

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

October 21, 2019





         Defendant Wilson pleaded guilty to a Section 841(b)(1)(B) crack cocaine offense in November 2008. The conviction exposed Defendant to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of forty years. Defendant was sentenced as a career offender in March 2009 to a total term of 188 months imprisonment. He was forty years old at the time.

         The matter before the Court is Defendant Wilson'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. 44). The Court appointed counsel to assist Defendant Wilson with his First Step motion. Both sides have filed briefs. The government responds that Defendant Wilson is not eligible for a reduced sentence because, it contends, the statutory penalties applicable to Defendant Wilson have not changed. (ECF No. 46). The defense avers that the penalty ranges have changed, and that Defendant is eligible for a reduced sentence under a plenary resentencing. (ECF No. 47).

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


         1. Defendant Wilson's Charge & Plea

         On June 5, 2008, Grand Rapids police officers observed Defendant Wilson engage in a hand-to-hand drug deal with another individual. Officers subsequently pulled over and arrested the buyer. A search found an ounce of crack cocaine on the buyer's person, and the individual admitted he had just purchased the crack cocaine from Defendant Wilson. The buyer agreed to cooperate and, under police supervision, set up another purchase with Defendant Wilson. Officers then observed Defendant Wilson arrive at the agreed upon location and stopped him for a traffic violation. A K-9 unit alerted to the presence of drugs in Defendant's vehicle, and a following search resulted in $2, 412 in currency, more than fifty grams of crack cocaine, a quantity of heroin, a digital scale, and eighty Ecstacy pills being seized.

         Defendant Wilson was charged in a two-count Indictment on July 10, 2008. Count One charged him with possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1); 841(b)(1)(B)(iii). Count Two charged Defendant with possession with intent to distribute heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1); 841(b)(1)(C). (ECF No. 1).

         On November 19, 2008, Defendant pleaded guilty to Count One of the Indictment. (ECF No. 24). As part of the written plea agreement, the parties stipulated that “[f]or purposes of computing the Sentencing Guidelines in this case, the parties agree that the Defendant's relevant conduct should be at least 50, but less than 150 grams of [crack] cocaine[.]” (ECF No. 22, PageID.101). In exchange for Defendant's plea the government agreed, inter alia, not to charge Defendant with possession with intent to distribute more than fifty grams of crack cocaine, which would have doubled his mandatory minimum sentence, and not to file a supplemental information of a previous felony drug conviction under 21 U.S.C. § 851 that would have served to enhance the range of statutory penalties applicable to Defendant. (Id. at PageID.103).

         2. PSR & Sentencing

         The Final Presentence Report (PSR) prepared by the probation officer found that Defendant Wilson was responsible for 1, 096 kilograms of marijuana equivalent. (PSR ¶ 16). The quantity, in turn, triggered an initial base offense level of 30. (PSR ¶ 35). After adjusting downward for acceptance of responsibility, Defendant's offense level would have been 27. The PSR determined, however, that Defendant Wilson qualified as a career offender because he committed the offense of conviction after incurring at least two prior felony convictions of a controlled substance offense. (PSR ¶ 44). Since the statutory maximum penalty for the offense of conviction was forty years under Section 841(b)(1)(B)(iii), the guidelines called for a career offender offense level of 31, after adjusting for acceptance of responsibility. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b)(B) (2008). Level 31 being higher than the offense level calculated under Section 2D1.1, the career offender offense level took precedence and became Defendant Wilson's total offense level. (PSR ¶ 46).

         The officer then scored Defendant's criminal history at twelve points, resulting in a criminal history category of V. (PSR ¶ 61). Because of his career offender qualification, however, Defendant's criminal history category was required to be category VI. (PSR ¶ 62). The guideline range for the drug offense, based on a total offense level of 31 and criminal history category of VI was 188 to 235 months on the chart. (PSR ¶ 101).[1] On March 6, 2009, the Court sentenced Defendant Wilson to 188 months imprisonment, the bottom end of the career offender guideline range. (ECF No. 28). Defendant did not appeal.

         Defendant subsequently sought a reduced sentence under Guideline Amendment 750. Due to his career offender status, Defendant's guideline range was not reduced, and under the applicable guideline policy statements Defendant was not eligible for a reduced sentence. (ECF No. 40). On May 6, 2019, Defendant filed the pending motion for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act. (ECF No. 44).

         3. The Fair ...

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