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Court upholds sentence-reduction denial

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Even though a defendant may be eligible for a sentence reduction under new crack cocaine sentencing guidelines, it is up to the District Court's discretion to grant a reduced sentence, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today. The Circuit Court affirmed a District Court's denial to reduce a man's sentence because of his behavior while in prison.

In United States of America v. Victor A. Young, No. 08-1863, a U.S. District judge of Indiana's Northern District declined granting Victor Young's motion to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582(c)(2) for possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute even though the government agreed a sentence reduction was appropriate. The District judge based his decision on the contents of an addendum that reported Young had been sanctioned 15 times for incidents of misconduct while in prison. The judge reasoned that this behavior reflected poorly on his ability to be rehabilitated and he posed a danger to the community if his sentence was reduced.

In his appeal, Young challenged the process the District Court used to rule on his motion. He believed if the court was to rely on new information about his prison sanctions, he should have been given notice to contest it.

However, Young did have access to the addendum prepared by the probation office four days before he filed his motion and could have addressed the information in his initial submission to the court but did not, wrote 7th Circuit Judge Diane Sykes.

The judge did think his behavior in prison was important and by written order and without holding a hearing, denied Young's motion. And, under Section 3582(c)(2), the District Court has substantial discretion in deciding how to adjudicate those motions, wrote Judge Sykes.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals hadn't attempted to identify the minimum procedural protections required under the section but declined to do so today. Even if the appellate court assumed a defendant has to have an opportunity to comment on post-sentencing conduct in a Section 3582(c)(2) proceeding, Young had that opportunity.

The defendant bears the burden of requesting the court for a different procedure, but Young never did. Even if he thought four days wasn't enough time to investigate the sanctions in the addendum, he could have raised the issue for more time, wrote Judge Sykes.

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