Sentencing/Reductions – Defendants adjudicated guilty before the effective date of the First Step Act of 2018 but sentenced after that date are ineligible for sentence reductions under the First Step Act.
Elugio Tigua and Freddy Castro pleaded guilty to violating the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act and were each sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 120 months.
After their guilty pleas, but before their sentencing hearings, Congress enacted the First Step Act of 2018, which among many other reforms also expanded the class of defendants eligible for relief under the safety valve, 18 U.S.C. 3553(f), which allows a court to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum.
The defendants pleaded guilty in September and October of 2018, and the Court accepted both pleads in October. On December 21, 2018, Congress passed and the president signed the First Step, which was to be effective immediately.
The defendants were sentenced a few weeks later in January 2019. Notably, the Government conceded that Tigua was safety-valve eligible and did not object to Castro’s request to reduce his sentence. Nonetheless, the district court held they were ineligible and imposed the mandatory minimum.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the First Step’s safety-valve expansion applied only to convictions “entered on or after the date of enactment” and a “conviction” occurs when a judge or jury determines that an individual is guilty. Here, that happened in October 2018, when the court adjudicated the defendants guilty.
Appeal from the Middle District of Florida
Opinion by W. Pryor, joined by Jordan and Newsom
Click here to read the opinion.