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United States v. Koons

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 10, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Timothy D. Koons Defendant-AppellantUnited States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Kenneth Jay Putensen Defendant-AppellantUnited States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Randy Feauto Defendant-AppellantUnited States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Esequiel Gutierrez Defendant-AppellantUnited States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Jose Manuel Gardea Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: October 19, 2016

         Appeals from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Sioux City

          Before WOLLMAN, LOKEN, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          LOKEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In these consolidated appeals, five defendants convicted of methamphetamine conspiracy offenses appeal denial of their motions for sentence reductions under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). For all five, the initial advisory guidelines range was entirely below the statutory mandatory minimum, and each was sentenced below that minimum after the district court granted government motions for § 3553(e) substantial assistance departures. The question is whether § 3582(c)(2) relief is now available because Amendment 782 to the Guidelines retroactively reduced by two levels the base offense levels assigned to drug quantities, lowering the advisory guidelines range for most drug offenses. We conclude that these defendants are not eligible for a § 3582(c)(2) reduction because their sentences were not "based on" a guidelines range subsequently lowered by the Sentencing Commission. Thus, we affirm the district court's denial of sentencing reductions on a different ground.

         I.

         In November 2012, Randy Feauto pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and unlawful possession of a firearm. Feauto's advisory guidelines range was 168 to 210 months in prison, but the conspiracy offense mandated a statutory minimum 20-year sentence, which became his guidelines sentence under U.S.S.G. § 5G1.1(b). The government moved for a substantial assistance downward departure. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e); U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1. The government recommended a ten percent reduction because Feauto had continued dealing drugs while assisting law enforcement by making controlled buys from drug dealers. The district court imposed a 132-month sentence, 45 percent below the mandatory minimum.

         After Amendment 782 became effective on November 1, 2014, the district court initiated a § 3582(c)(2) proceeding to determine whether Feauto was eligible for a sentence reduction. The United States Probation Office calculated his amended guidelines range to be 121 to 151 months in prison, disregarding § 5G1.1 of the Guidelines, as U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(c) instructs. Promulgated by the Commission in Amendment 780, § 1B1.10(c) provides, with emphasis added:

Cases Involving Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Substantial Assistance. If the case involves a statutorily required minimum sentence and the court had the authority to impose a sentence below the statutorily required minimum sentence pursuant to a government motion to reflect the defendant's substantial assistance to authorities, then for purposes of this policy statement the amended guideline range shall be determined without regard to the operation of § 5G1.1 (Sentencing on a Single Count of Conviction) and § 5G1.2 (Sentencing on Multiple Counts of Conviction).

This appeared to make Feauto eligible for discretionary § 3582(c)(2) relief that could reduce his sentence to as low as 67 months, a reduction comparable to the initial 45 percent substantial assistance reduction. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10, cmt. n.4.

         At the § 3582(c)(2) motion hearing, the district court commented, "I don't see how a retroactive guideline can essentially trump a mandatory minimum like it does in this case, " and ordered briefing on the issue. The government and Feauto agreed he was eligible for a reduction, but disagreed as to whether the district court should exercise its discretion to reduce his sentence. After giving the parties an opportunity to comment on its tentative decision, the court ruled that the Sentencing Commission exceeded its authority in promulgating a guideline, § 1B1.10(c), that nullifies the statutory minimum sentence, or that Congress violated the non-delegation doctrine and separation-of-powers principles if it granted that authority. Accordingly, the district court concluded, Feauto was not eligible for § 3582(c)(2) relief because he "was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence exceeding both his original guideline range and his amended guideline range." United States v. Feauto, 146 F.Supp.3d 1022, 1041 (N.D. Iowa 2015). This decision was consistent with controlling Eighth Circuit precedent prior to the adoption of § 1B1.10(c) in November 2014. See United States v. Moore, 734 F.3d 836, 838 (8th Cir. 2013).

         The other four appellants were likewise convicted of drug conspiracy offenses mandating statutory minimum sentences greater than their entire advisory guidelines ranges -- Timothy Koons (20-year mandatory minimum), Kenneth Jay Putensen (life), Jose Gardea (10 years), and Esequiel Gutierrez (20 years). Each was granted a substantial assistance reduction below the mandatory minimum sentence -- Koons to 180 months (25 percent); Putensen to 264 months (35 percent); Gardea to 84 months (30 percent); and Gutierrez to 192 months (36 percent). Amendment 782 lowered their amended guidelines ranges further below the mandatory minimum, calculated in accordance with § 1B1.10(c). The district court denied § 3582(c)(2) sentencing reductions, relying on its ruling in Feauto. These appeals followed. We review defendants' eligibility for § 3582(c)(2) sentence reductions de novo. United States v. Bogdan, 835 F.3d 805, 807 (8th Cir. 2016).

         II.

         Providing a rare exception to the finality of criminal judgments, § 3582(c)(2) allows a district court to reduce the sentence of "a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission . . . if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." The applicable policy statement, U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10, provides that a defendant is eligible for a discretionary § 3582(c)(2) reduction if his applicable guidelines range is lowered by a retroactive amendment listed in § 1B1.10(d), such as Amendment 782. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a). The extent of a § 3582(c)(2) reduction is normally limited to the bottom of the amended guidelines range, but if the defendant initially received a ...


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