United States v. Antonio Soul Gonzalez (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Federal Docket

August 20, 2021

Sentencing Reductions – A defendant may move for a sentence reduction pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act if they are serving a sentence imposed upon revocation of supervised release when the underlying crime is a “covered offense.”

Antonio Gonzalez pleaded guilty in 2005 to a crack-cocaine offense and was sentenced to 240 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release. His supervised release was revoked in 2015, and he was sentenced to serve an additional 57 months in prison, consecutive to another sentence.

In April 2019, Gonzalez sought to reduce that 57-month sentence under Section 404(b) of the First Step Act, which makes retroactive the reduced sentences for crack offenses under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Gonzalez argued that he was eligible for a sentence reduction because his original crack-cocaine offense was a “covered offense,” one whose penalties were reduced under the Fair Sentencing Act. The Government argued that the 57-month sentence was a sentence for revocation of supervised release, not for a covered offense. The district court agreed and denied Gonzalez’s motion.

On appeal, and deciding the issue as a matter of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit held that Gonzalez was eligible under Section 404(b) because his underlying crime, the one that led to the initial term of imprisonment and supervised release was a “covered offense.” As the Supreme Court has previously explained, “post-revocation penalties relate to the original offense.”

In holding that sentences imposed upon revocation of supervised release are eligible for reduction under the First Step Act if the original crime is a “covered offense,” the Eleventh Circuit joined the Fourth and Sixth Circuits. See United States v. Woods, 949 F.3d 934 (6th Cir. 2020); United States v. Venable, 943 F.3d 187 (4th Cir. 2019).

However, the Court also held that the district court did not err in denying Gonzalez’s motion on an alternative ground, that a sentence reduction was not warranted based on Gonzalez’s repeat offenses, disciplinary issues while in custody, and his risk of recidivism.

The Court also held that district courts are not required to re-calculate a defendant’s Guidelines range before exercising their discretion to grant or deny a motion, rejecting the Seventh Circuit’s approach in United States v. Corner, 967 F.3d 662 (7th Cir. 2020).

Judge Tjoflat concurred, arguing that the Court had failed to “articulate any standard that limits a district court’s discretion to reduce sentences under 404(b) of the First Step Act of 2018.” After reviewing the text of the statute and its other provisions authorizing reductions, Judge Tjoflat argued that a district court’s exercise of discretion in granting or denying a motion for reduction under 404(b) is “unreviewable.”

Appeal from the Middle District of Florida
Opinion by Jordan, joined by Newsom and Tjoflat
Concurring opinion by Tjoflat

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

Scroll to Top