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United States v. Otto Taylor (11th Cir. December 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s holding that a defendant was ineligible for a sentence reduction under Section 404 of the First Step Act, which made retroactive reduced mandatory minimums for crack cocaine offenses. The Court held that a defendant who has a “covered offense” is eligible for a reduction even if he was charged with other drugs that trigger the same statutory sentencing range.

United States v. Malik Nasir (3rd Cir. December 2020), EN BANC

Sitting en banc, the Third Circuit held that inchoate offenses are not included in the definition of “controlled substance offenses” under the career offender guidelines because commentary to the Guidelines is not binding when it is inconsistent with or broader than the text of the Guidelines. The Court also held that a court reviewing a defendant’s Rehaif challenge under plain error review is limited to considering the record presented at trial, not the whole record, and a new trial is warranted where there is no evidence presented to a jury regarding the defendant’s knowledge of his prior felony.

United States v. Michael Henry (6th Cir. December 2020)

The Sixth Circuit held that defendants convicted under 924(c) and involved in resentencing proceedings on remand must be sentenced subject to the First Step Act’s amendments to 924(c).

Updated Compilation of Compassionate Release Grants

Attorney Tom Church has compiled a list of Compassionate Release grants and some of the key findings and information in the corresponding opinions. The list includes grants of release for inmates with specific medical conditions, inmates who have already tested positive for COVID-19 and/or recovered, inmates released from facilities that are reporting zero confirmed cases, …

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Fourth Circuit becomes Fourth US Court of Appeals to Hold Courts Have Independent Discretion to Reduce Inmates’ Sentences

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals became the fourth appellate circuit to hold that district courts reviewing an inmate’s motion for sentence reduction under 3582(c)(1)(A) have the independent discretion to determine if there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting the requested reduction. The Fourth Circuit joins the Second, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits in recognizing district courts’ broad discretion when reviewing requests for sentence reductions and compassionate release.

Sixth and Seventh Circuits Hold Courts Have Broad Discretion to Determine Inmate Eligibility for Compassionate Release

The Sixth Circuit and Seventh Circuit have joined the Second Circuit in holding that district courts considering motions for sentence reductions under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A) can exercise their discretion in determining whether an inmate has presented “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting a sentence modification.

United States v. Lindon Amede (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction of a defendant in a drug conspiracy case. The Court held that recorded hearsay statements between an unindicted co-conspirator and an undercover agent were admissible against the defendant where the exsitence of a conspiracy was proved by the co-conspirator discussing drug transactions with the undercover, saying he would send “my guy” to the undercover to conduct business,” and the defendant showing up to conduct transactions as discussed. The Court also held that drug offenses under 841(a)(1) do not require willfullness, that the district court did not err in precluding the defendant from presenting a duress defense, and the district court did not err in allowing the defendant to represent himself at sentencing.

Criminal Justice Reform on the 2020 Ballot

The Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University has compiled a list of criminal justice ballot measures in the 2020 election, by state and by type of reform, to inform voters of what drug reform initiatives or criminal justice reforms are on the ballot in their states. The article lists, for example, Arizona as the only state where possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony and where voters can vote to legalize recreational weed after the initiative barely failed in 2016. The article also lists measures in California to allow certain felons to vote and reform cash bail. Oregon, on the other hand, will have a ballot measure giving residents the power to decriminalize possession of any kind of drug.

United States v. Christian Delgado-Lopez (10th Cir. September 2020)

The Tenth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence, holding that the district court applied the wrong legal standards in denying the defendant a minor role reduction under 3B1.2(b). The judge did not consider the totality of the circumstances or evaluate any particular factors, but rather denied the reduction based on the judge’s own speculation regarding the defendant’s economic motives and his lack of cooperation with the government, rather than evidence in the record.

United States v. Jamel E. Easter (3rd Cir. September 2020)

In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit vacated defendant’s denied motion for resentencing under Section 404 of the First Step Act and remanded for resentencing, holding the § 3553 factors must be considered anew when a sentence is modified. The Court relied on the plain text of 18 U.S.C. § 3582, § 404 of the First Step Act, and § 3553, which all refer to “imposing” a sentence and thus require consideration of factors relevant to imposing a sentence, such as a defendant’s post-sentence rehabilitation.

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