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United States v. Benedict

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 4, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DEREK EDWARD BENEDICT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on four motions of defendant Derek Edward Benedict. First, Benedict seeks a reduction in sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). See ECF No. 569. Second, Benedict requests appointment of counsel in pursuing relief under § 3582(c). See ECF No. 573. Third, requests to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) during the § 3582(c) proceedings and to be excused from any filing-fee obligations. See ECF No. 574. Fourth, Benedict requests production of transcripts at government expense in anticipation of unrelated proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. All four motions are denied for the reasons explained below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Benedict was convicted after a jury trial on charges of conspiracy to commit bank burglary, aiding and abetting bank larceny, conspiracy to steal controlled substances, aiding and abetting burglary involving controlled substances, and aiding and abetting interstate transportation of stolen property. At sentencing in April 2015, the Court concluded that Benedict was a career offender as that term was then defined by the United States Sentencing Guidelines and imposed a 150-month term of imprisonment - a variance upward from the 100-125 months recommended for a defendant (such as Benedict) with an offense level of 24 and a criminal-history category of VI. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2 (2014).

         During the pendency of Benedict's direct appeal, the Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), ran afoul of “the Constitution's prohibition of vague criminal laws.” 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2555 (2015). Johnson was not directly relevant to Benedict's case - he had not been convicted under the ACCA - but the career-offender enhancement pursuant to which Benedict had been sentenced included a residual clause identical to that struck down in Johnson. On direct appeal, Benedict contended that the application of the career-offender enhancement had therefore been unlawful.

         Initially, the Eighth Circuit concluded that, even assuming Johnson applied to the Sentencing Guidelines, Benedict nevertheless was correctly found to be a career offender because his prior convictions for commercial burglary also qualified as enumerated offenses under the version of § 4B1.2 then in effect. See United States v. Benedict (“Benedict I”), 815 F.3d 377, 385-86 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing United States v. Stymiest, 581 F.3d 759 (8th Cir. 2009)). Benedict then sought, and was granted, en banc review on the question of whether his burglary offense qualified as an enumerated offense under the sentencing guidelines. Benedict I was accordingly vacated.

         Around that same time, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Beckles v. United States on the question of whether the residual clause of the career- offender enhancement of the Sentencing Guidelines, like the residual clause of the ACCA, was also void for vagueness, as the Eighth Circuit had assumed without deciding in Benedict I. The Eighth Circuit stayed Benedict's appeal pending the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles, which came in March 2017: “advisory Guidelines are not subject to vagueness challenges.” Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886, 890 (2017). The stay was lifted and Benedict's appeal was returned to the original panel for disposition. A few weeks later, the Eighth Circuit again affirmed Benedict's sentence, this time finding, consistent with Beckles, that the residual clause of the career-offender enhancement remained valid at the time of his sentencing and that his prior burglary convictions qualified as predicate offenses under that clause. See United States v. Benedict (“Benedict II”), 855 F.3d 880, 890 (8th Cir. 2017).

         As all this took place, the United States Sentencing Commission amended the Sentencing Guidelines to remove the residual clause of the career-offender enhancement, effective August 1, 2016. See Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 798. That same amendment also removed “burglary of a dwelling” from the list of enumerated offenses. Id. If sentenced under the Guidelines now in effect (or the version in effect at the time of Benedict II), Benedict would no longer qualify as a career offender under § 4B1.2.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Under § 3582(c), a district court may modify a term of imprisonment

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 . . . after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.

         Benedict argues that because he would no longer be a career offender if sentenced today, his sentencing range has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission through Amendment 798, and his sentence may be reduced pursuant to § 3582(c).[1]

         Benedict is incorrect. Only if a sentence “reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission” may such a reduction be applied under § 3582(c). Among the policy statements of the Sentencing Commission is that only particular, enumerated amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines qualify a defendant for relief under § 3582(c). Amendment 798 is not among those enumerated amendments. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10; accord United States v. Strevig, 663 Fed. App'x 908, 912 (11th Cir. 2016) (“The Sentencing Commission, however, has not made Amendment 798 retroactive to individuals sentenced prior to the effective date of the Amendment.”). By its plain terms, then, § 3582(c) excludes Benedict from relief.

         Benedict contends that his sentence may nevertheless be reduced because Amendment 798 took effect while his case remained pending on direct appeal - that is, before his sentence had become final. Section 3582(c), however, makes no distinction between cases where the relevant guidelines range has been lowered during, rather than after, direct appeal. Had Amendment 798 applied retroactively, that amendment could be invoked in support of a motion under § 3582(c) regardless of when that amendment took effect, so long as the amendment took effect after sentencing. See, e.g., United States v. Lawin, 779 F.3d 780, 781-82 (8th Cir. 2015). Conversely, if a guidelines amendment cannot be invoked retroactively, a defendant cannot avail himself of relief under ยง 3582(c) regardless of when that guidelines amendment took effect (again, assuming the amendment took effect after sentencing). ...


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