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United States v. Ferguson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 2, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GADELLE DANTE FERGUSON, Defendant.

          Thomas Calhoun-Lopez, Assistant United States Attorney, Erica MacDonald, United States Attorney, for plaintiff.

          Shannon R. Elkins, Assistant Federal Defender, for defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION ON SENTENCING

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE

         Gadelle Dante Ferguson pled guilty to one count of Possession With Intent to Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). The Court sentenced Ferguson to 120 months imprisonment, which constitutes a downward variance from the recommended imprisonment range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. There are several reasons for the variance, including the Court's policy disagreement with the Guidelines' treatment of offenses involving actual/pure methamphetamine. This Memorandum Opinion further explains the Court's policy disagreement.

         BACKGROUND

         The current Guidelines establish base offense levels for methamphetamine offenses that depend on the drug's purity.[1] For example, a defendant whose offense involves 15 kg of a methamphetamine mixture and another defendant whose offense involves 1.5 kg - ten times less - of actual/pure methamphetamine would both have a base offense level of 36. U.S.S.G § 2D1.1(c)(2) (2016). The current Guidelines treat both those amounts for sentencing purposes as equivalent to 30, 000 kg of marijuana. Id.

         This was not always the case. The 1987 Guidelines treated 1.5 kg of methamphetamine as equivalent to 600 kg of marijuana. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1 (1987).[2]The 1987 Guidelines' Drug Quantity Table did not differentiate actual/pure methamphetamine from methamphetamine mixtures but provided that “purity of the controlled substance . . . may be relevant in the sentencing process because it is probative of the defendant's role or position in the chain of distribution.” Id. § 2D1.1 cmt. 9.

         In 1988, Congress established mandatory-minimum sentences for methamphetamine offenses. Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-690, § 6470(g)-(h), 102 Stat. 4181, 4378 (codified at 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)).[3] Those mandatory minimums had a 10-to-1 ratio based on purity. An offense involving 100g of a methamphetamine mixture or 10g of actual/pure methamphetamine had a 5-year mandatory minimum; and an offense involving 1 kg of a methamphetamine mixture or 100g of actual/pure methamphetamine had a 10-year mandatory minimum. Id.

         The following year, in 1989, the United States Sentencing Commission revised the Drug Quantity Table in § 2D1.1 by incorporating the statutory penalties and by differentiating between actual/pure methamphetamine and methamphetamine mixtures at the same 10-to-1 ratio. For example, the 1989 Guidelines treated 15 kg of a methamphetamine mixture and 1.5 kg of actual/pure methamphetamine each as being equivalent to 15, 000 kg of marijuana. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(4) (1989). A defendant with a criminal-history category of I convicted of an offense involving just enough methamphetamine to trigger a statutory mandatory minimum under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 would have received under the 1989 Guidelines a recommended sentence consistent with the statutory mandatory minimum. For example, an offense involving 100g of a methamphetamine mixture or 10g of actual/pure methamphetamine would have resulted in a 5-year mandatory minimum and yielded a base offense level of 26, yielding a Guideline range of 63-78 months imprisonment. Id. § 2D1.1(c)(9); id. ch. 5, pt.

         A. Similarly, an offense involving 1 kg of a methamphetamine mixture or 100g of actual/pure methamphetamine would have resulted in a 10-year mandatory minimum and base offense level of 32, yielding a Guideline range of 121-151 months. Id. § 2D1.1(c)(6); id. ch. 5, pt. A.

         Most recently, in 1998, Congress amended the statutory penalties for methamphetamine offenses by cutting in half the amounts that triggered the respective mandatory-minimum sentences. Methamphetamine Trafficking Penalty Enhancement Act of 1998, Div. E, § 2, Pub. L. No. 105-277, 112 Stat. 2681, 2681-759. Shortly thereafter, the Commission again followed Congress's lead and accordingly increased the base offense levels for methamphetamine offenses. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(4), (7) (2000). Consequently, today an offense involving 50g of a methamphetamine mixture or 5g of actual/pure methamphetamine triggers a 5-year mandatory minimum. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(viii). The same offense yields a base offense level of 24, which for a defendant with a criminal-history category of I yields a range of 51-63 months imprisonment. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(8); id. ch. 5, pt. A. And, an offense involving 500g of a methamphetamine mixture or 50g of actual/pure methamphetamine triggers a 10-year mandatory minimum. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(viii). That offense yields a base offense level of 30, which for a defendant with a criminal-history category of I yields a range of 97-121 months imprisonment. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(5); id. ch. 5, pt. A.

         To summarize, the Commission twice amended the Guidelines for methamphetamine offenses so that the base offense levels (for a defendant with a criminal-history category of I) would exactly align with the mandatory-minimum sentences - and the Commission did so each time right after Congress created or changed the minimum sentences.

         DISCUSSION

         I. THE COURT'S POLICY DISAGREEMENT WITH THE ACUTAL/PURE ...


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