United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Michael L. Cheever, Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED
STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for plaintiff.
Stirling Michael Heaton, Reg. No. 16286-041, Phoenix Federal
Correctional Institution, pro se defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO
R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE.
Stirling Michael Heaton was originally sentenced to a term of
imprisonment of 115 months pursuant to a binding plea
agreement under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) entered into by
the parties and accepted by the Court. Heaton now moves for a
sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) based on
Amendment 782 to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual
(“the Guidelines”), which retroactively lowers
his advisory Guidelines range from 130-162 months to 110-137
months, before factoring in an 18-month adjustment for an
undischarged state term under § 5G1.3(b)(1) of the
Guidelines. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will
grant Heaton's motion and reduce his sentence to 98
2012, Heaton was indicted for charges of conspiracy to commit
racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), in
connection with his membership in the “Native
Mob” gang. (Indictment ¶¶ 3, 14, 22(v)-(x),
Jan. 19, 2012, Docket No. 18.) On March 30, 2013, the parties
attempted to enter a plea agreement pursuant to Fed. R. Crim.
P. 11(c)(1)(C), binding the Court to sentence Heaton to 124
months' imprisonment, premised on a total offense level
of 27, with credit for time served in state custody. (Tr. of
Sentencing Hr'g at 8-11, 15, June 8, 2016, Docket No.
1620.) The Court refused to accept the plea agreement,
finding that the plea agreement improperly applied the
Guidelines because Heaton in fact had a “total offense
level of 28.” (Id. at 6, 14-15.) The Court
then determined the proper sentence for Heaton based on his
Guidelines range: the Court “start[ed] at the bottom of
the guideline range” with 130 months, then increased
the sentence by 6 months for a “witness tampering
issue, ” then reduced by 18 months to credit Heaton for
the time served on an undischarged state sentence under
§ 5G1.3(b)(1), and finally imposed a 3-month downward
variance for good time Heaton would not receive on the state
term. (Id. at 14-15.) Based on these calculations,
the Court found 115 months to be the “fair and
reasonable sentence” and directed the parties change
the plea agreement to 115 months or to “withdraw [the
plea] and go to trial.” (Id. at 15.)
a recess, the parties presented an edited Rule 11(c)(1)(C)
agreement, which the government said, “corrected [the
Guidelines] computations throughout” the agreement.
(Id. at 16.) As part of the process of accepting the
agreement, Heaton affirmed that he understood the total
offense level in the plea agreement increased from 27 to 28,
and the change resulted in a Guidelines range of 130 to 162
months, without the § 5G1.3 adjustment. (Id. at
18.) Thereafter, the Court accepted the plea agreement and
imposed a sentence of 115 months after an adjustment for
Heaton's related, undischarged state term pursuant to
§ 5G1.3. (Id. at 21; see also Final
Approved Plea Agreement at 8 n.1, May 30, 2013, Docket No.
1236 (discussing Heaton's adjustment under §
U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) provides that a criminal sentence
may be retroactively reduced “in the case 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.” In 2014, the
Sentencing Commission approved Amendment 782 to the
Guidelines. U.S.S.G. Suppl. to App. C, Amend. 782 (U.S.
Sentencing Comm'n 2014). The amended Guidelines
retroactively reduced the base offense level for Heaton's
drug quantity from 26 to 24 and reduced his total offense
level from 28 to 26. On October 17, 2016, Heaton filed a motion
to reduce his term of imprisonment based on Amendment 782 and
18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).
ELIGIBILITY UNDER 18 U.S.C. § 3582(C)(2)
Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) provides that a “plea agreement
may specify that an attorney for the government will . . .
agree that a specific sentence . . . is the appropriate
disposition of the case.” If the Court accepts that
plea agreement, the agreed upon sentence “binds the
court.” Id. When a defendant is sentenced
pursuant to a binding Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, the
court retains discretion to reduce the sentence under §
3582(c)(2) only if the “agreement
expressly uses a Guidelines sentencing range to establish the
term of imprisonment, and that range is subsequently lowered
by the [United States Sentencing] Commission.”
Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522, 539 (2011)
(Sotomayor, J., concurring). For Freeman to apply,
“[t]he plea agreement must do more than opaquely refer
to concepts usually embodied in the Guidelines
calculations.” United States v. Renfrow, No.
15-3792, 2017 WL 781516, at *1 (8th Cir. Feb. 28,
2017). It must be “evident from the agreement itself,
for purposes of § 3852(c)(2) the term of imprisonment
imposed by the court in accordance with that agreement is
‘based on'” the applicable sentencing range.
Freeman, 564 U.S. at 539.
Court finds Heaton's amended plea agreement meets this
standard. The initial agreement included a Guidelines
calculation and an advisory Guidelines range, and selected a
sentence within that range. (Final Approved Plea Agreement at
6-9.) The Court refused to accept the agreement, finding it
incorrectly applied the Guidelines. The parties were then
given an option to revise the plea agreement to reflect the
correct Guidelines range and the sentence that the Court
found was appropriate based on that range. Accordingly, the
Court finds that the amended agreement was “based
on” the applicable Guidelines and that Heaton is
eligible for reduction of his term of imprisonment under 18
U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).
AMENDED GUIDELINES RANGE AND U.S.S.G. § 5G1.3
3582(c)(2) provides for sentence reductions “consistent
with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing
Commission.” The policy statement applicable to
reductions under § 3582(c)(2) is found in U.S.S.G.
§ 1B1.10. That policy statement directs the court to
“determine the amended guideline range that would have
been applicable” if the amendment had been in effect
and “leave all other guideline application decisions
unaffected.” U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(1). The policy
statement also states “the court shall not reduce the
defendant's term of imprisonment under [§]
3582(c)(2) . . . to a term that is less than the minimum of
the amended guideline range determined under subdivision (1)
of this subsection, ” unless the court previously
imposed a term less than the Guidelines range “pursuant
to a government motion to reflect the defendant's
substantial assistance to authorities.” Id.
§ 1B1.10(b)(2)(A)-(B). Accordingly, in many cases, the
Court may not reimpose a downward departure or variance to
below the amended Guidelines range when considering a §
3582(c)(2) sentence reduction, even if it had done so at the
initial sentencing. See, e.g., ...