United States v. Ian Owens (6th Cir. May 2021)

The Federal Docket

Sentencing/First Step Act – The disparity between an inmate’s sentence and the sentence he or she would have received had they been sentenced after passage of the First Step Act can, along with other factors, constitute an “extraordinary and compelling reason” warranting a sentence reduction.

Ian Owens was convicted on multiple counts of bank robbery, carjacking, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and during a crime of violence. Under then-existing law, specifically 18 U.S.C. 924(c), Owens was sentenced to 151 months on the robbery, carjacking, and felon-in-possession counts and the mandatory minimum 1260 months (105 years) on the 924(c) counts, to run consecutively. The Government had offered him a plea offer on two 924(c) counts, but Owens went to trial. His co-conspirators pleaded guilty and received sentences of 21 months, 33 months, 25 years, and 39 years.

After serving more than 15 years, and in light of the First Step Act’s passage lowering the mandatory minimum sentences under 924(c) and allowing inmates to file motions for sentence reductions, Owens filed a motion under 18 USC 3582(c) requesting compassionate release. He argued that the difference between the sentence he received and the sentence he would have received today under the amended 924(c), as well as his record of rehabilitation, were “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting release.

The district court denied his motion, finding that basing a sentence reduction on what an inmate’s sentence would be under an amended statute would “circumvent” Congress’s intent when it declined to make the statute retroactive.

The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court, holding that, “in making an individualized determination about whether extraordinary and compelling reasons merit compassionate release, a district court may include, along with other factors, the disparity between a defendant’s actual sentence and the sentence that he would receive if the First Step Act applied.”

Appeal from the Western District of Michigan
Opinion by Moore, joined by Daughtrey
Dissent by Thapar

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.

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