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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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