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District Court erred in drug sentence

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a man's sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine because the District Court failed to figure out the quantity of the drug reasonably attributable to the defendant.

In United States of America v. Jeffrey Dean, No. 08-3287, Jeffrey Dean appealed his conspiracy to distribute conviction and the 156-month prison sentence. He was convicted by a jury, which also found him responsible for no more than 500 grams of the drug.

The District Court used the base-level offense of 38 based on the level computed in the pre-sentence report, but adjusted it down two levels because Dean was a minor player in the conspiracy. The judge added two levels for obstruction of justice because Dean stated under oath he never sold methamphetamine when the evidence showed otherwise. The adjusted offense level of 38 was then reduced four levels to 34 because the judge split the difference between 38 and 30, which is the guideline range for 500 grams. She then reduced it to a level 33 because addiction was the driving force behind Dean's participation in the offense.

The District Court never took the first essential step of calculating the correct base offense level because it failed to ascertain the quantity of methamphetamine reasonably foreseeable to Dean. It originally set the level at 38 because it was a reliable estimate of the amount of drugs being dealt by everyone in the conspiracy, but it didn't determine how much could be attributed to Dean, wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple. The Circuit Court rejected the approach of the District Court judge to split the difference between offense levels as the equivalent of a judicial determination of the amount of drugs attributable to Dean.

"We therefore must vacate Mr. Dean's sentence and remand this case to the district court so that it may make a specific finding as to the quantity of methamphetamine reasonably foreseeable to Mr. Dean and, on the basis of that finding, impose the correct sentence," he wrote.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the imposition of a two level increase after finding Dean committed obstruction of justice. It's clear from the transcript he willfully made misrepresentations under oath that were relevant to the prosecution with specific intent of obstructing justice, wrote Judge Ripple.

The federal appellate judges also affirmed Dean's conviction of conspiracy to distribute, finding the government introduced sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find he intentionally joined the charged conspiracy.

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