The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a defendant’s request to reduce his sentence after he pleaded guilty to distributing crack cocaine. The judges also pointed out concerns with the use of a form order in his case.
In United States of America v. Aswan D. Scott, 12-2555, Aswan Scott pleaded guilty to distributing at least 50 grams of crack cocaine, and his agreement specified a term of 192 months in prison. He accepted the binding sentence in order to induce the government to dismiss a repeat-offender notice it had filed under 21 U.S.C. Section 851.
Scott filed a motion seeking a reduction based on Amendment 711 to the sentencing guidelines that retroactively lowered the base offense level for some drug crimes involving crack. Judge Sarah Evans Barker denied the motion because Scott was not eligible for a deduction based on the binding plea agreement.
Instead of appealing, Scott then filed another motion seeking a reduction under Amendment 750. That was also denied, with the only explanation appearing on a form with boxes, with the box checked that said, “The defendant is eligible for a reduction under this amendment, but the Court has determined that such a reduction is not appropriate because of the nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or the community that may be posed by a reduction in sentence. (Application Note 1(B) of U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10.)”
Scott argued that the District Court didn’t adequately explain its reason for denying his second motion, which hinders meaningful appellate review.
“We share his concern with the use of a form order like this. The whole point of the district court’s duty to take into account the factors outlined by section 3553(a) is to apply them to the particulars of a defendant’s case. A form might be an acceptable starting point, but an explanation of the reason why a particular factor applies, rather than a flat statement that it does, will normally be necessary both to guide the district court’s choices and to provide a basis for appellate review,” Judge Diane Wood wrote.
“Indeed, here the form introduced an error into the district court’s analysis, because it stated that he was eligible for a reduction in his sentence, and as we explain in a moment, he was not.”
But the form’s use doesn’t drive the outcome of the case, the judges held, because Scott’s plea agreement makes him ineligible for a sentence reduction.