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7th Circuit agrees crack cocaine offender's sentence can't be reduced

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed an issue involving crack cocaine sentencing Tuesday – whether a defendant sentenced under the career offender guideline, but with a downward departure for substantial assistance, is eligible for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582(c)(2).

In United States of America v. James Guyton, No. 09-3866, James Guyton appealed the denial by Judge Rudy Lozano in the Northern District of Indiana’s Hammond Division of his motion to have his sentence for a crack cocaine offense reduced. He was sentenced in 2001 for possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute and qualified as a career offender. Based on his substantial assistance to the government in prosecuting another person, he was sentenced downward under U.S.S.G. Section 5K1.1 and received a 130-month sentence instead of one in the range of 188 to 235 months in prison.

After the sentencing commission adopted Amendment 706, reducing the base offense levels for crack cocaine offenses and made it retroactive, Guyton moved to have his sentence reduced.

In United States v. Forman, 553 F.3d 585, 589-90 (7th Cir. 2009), the Circuit Court held that a crack cocaine offender sentenced under the career offender guideline wasn’t eligible for reduced sentence under Section 3582(c)(2). But Guyton argued that his actual sentence was based on the crack cocaine guidelines because his sentence did fall within the range that would have applied absent his career offender status.

The 7th Circuit upheld the denial of the motion by the District Court. As a matter of law, a sentence reduction under that section is unavailable to Guyton because his relevant guideline range was established by the career offender guideline before he received the benefit of a substantial assistance departure, wrote Judge David Hamilton. Also, the sentencing commission hasn’t retroactively reduced the career offender guideline that determined Guyton’s guideline range, so reducing his sentence would have been contrary to the policy of the sentencing commission.

The judges found their conclusion to be consistent with the decisions of the 6th, 8th, and 10th Circuits, which held that the only applicable guideline range is the one established before any departures. They noted their decision is in tension with decisions from the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Circuits, and respectfully disagreed with those decisions to the extent that they may be read to allow a sentence reduction in circumstances like Guyton’s.

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