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United States v. Crooks.

No. 20-1025. D.Colo. Judge Tymkovich. First Step Act of 2018—Fair Sentencing Act of 2010—Motion for Sentence Reduction—Covered Offense—US Sentencing Guidelines—Career Offender Status.

May 17, 2021

Defendant was convicted two decades ago with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine when the court found that he possessed with intent to distribute 567 grams of crack cocaine. At the time of sentencing, an enhanced penalty provision subjected defendant to a mandatory statutory penalty of 10 years to life imprisonment. The pre-sentence report (PSR) concluded that defendant qualified as a career offender under § 4B1.1 of the US Sentencing Guidelines (Guidelines), and it calculated the Guidelines range to be 360 months to life imprisonment. Defendant was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment.

The punishment associated with crack cocaine offenses has changed significantly since defendant’s conviction. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (2010 Act) addressed the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine by raising the crack cocaine quantity threshold for statutory penalties from 50 to 280 grams. But the 2010 Act was not retroactive in application. In 2018, the First Step Act made the 2010 Act’s changes to crack cocaine penalties retroactive by allowing prisoners sentenced under prior laws to file motions for sentence reductions. Defendant filed a motion under the First Step Act requesting a reduction of his sentence to time served (about 260 months). He also asked the district court to correctly calculate his Guidelines range without the career offender enhancement because a federal drug conspiracy is not a “controlled substance offense” under the career offender Guideline. The district court denied the motion.

On appeal, defendant argued that the district court erred in determining that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction. During the appeal, the government changed its position and conceded defendant’s eligibility for relief. Defendant is eligible for relief if he was convicted of a “covered offense” under First Step Act § 404(a). The eligibility depends on a defendant’s offense of conviction, not the underlying conduct. Here, despite defendant’s conduct of possessing 567 grams of crack cocaine, he committed a “covered offense” because he was sentenced for distributing 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, which is below the 280-gram threshold. Therefore, he is eligible for resentencing under the First Step Act, and the district court erred.

Defendant also argued that the district court erred in determining that even if he were eligible for a sentence reduction, he should not receive one because the court could not review his career offender designation. A career offender designation is reviewable in a First Step Act motion. The government conceded on appeal that defendant was improperly designated as a career offender because his drug conspiracy conviction of 21 USC § 846 is not a “controlled substance offense” within the meaning of the career offender guideline. Defendant’s conspiracy conviction under 21 USC § 846 did not require an overt act, so he did not satisfy the career offender requirements of Guidelines § 4B1.1, and the designation was incorrectly applied to him. Defendant was therefore erroneously designated as a career offender.

The order was reversed and the matter was remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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