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Amendment doesn't affect sentence

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Even though the terms of a defendant's plea agreement didn't prevent him from filing a motion to reduce his sentence, he is ineligible for the reduction under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582(c)(2) because his sentence wasn't affected by an amendment to the sentencing guidelines, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed today.

In United States of America v. John Q. Monroe, No. 08-2945, John Monroe appealed the District Court's denial of his motion for a reduction in the length of his sentence under Section 3582(c)(2). He had pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base and was sentenced to 168 months in prison. He faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 240 months if he was convicted under the charge, which became his "guideline sentence." The downward departure was based on Monroe's cooperation.

After he was sentenced, Amendment 706 to the sentencing guidelines took effect and reduced the base offense levels for drug offenses involving cocaine base by two levels. The District Court denied Monroe's motion for a sentence reduction without discussing the applicability of it to him, but it noted that a reduction wasn't appropriate.

Before ruling on if the amendment applied to Monroe's case, the Circuit Court determined that his plea agreement didn't prevent him from filing his motion. It determined that his motion for a reduction wasn't an appeal or collateral attack, as those were not allowed under the terms of his plea agreement. The federal judges disagreed with the government that motions brought under Section 3582(c)(2) are in essence collateral attacks, citing United States v. Chavez-Salias, 337 F.3d 1170 (10th Cir. 2003).

The evidence in the instant case doesn't show Monroe agreed to give up his right to seek a reduction in the length of his sentence based on a retroactive change in the sentencing guidelines, nor does it show the parties meant for Section 3582(c)(2) motions to be considered collateral attacks, wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple.

Even though he could bring the motion under the terms of his plea agreement, the District Court was correct in finding the amendment didn't apply to Monroe. He's ineligible for the reduction because Section 3582(c)(2) only permits the District Court to modify a sentence where the applicable sentencing range had been lowered. The amendment had no effect on Monroe's case because he was sentenced in accordance to the mandatory minimum sentence, rather than with the sentencing range set up in the guidelines, wrote the judge. The Circuit judges concluded their holding in United States v. Poole, 550 F.3d 676 (7th Circ. 2008), decided after briefs were filed in the instant case, is determinative.

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