Sentencing/First Step Act – The Fifth Circuit applies an abuse-of-discretion standard to a district court’s ruling on a motion to resentence under the First Step Act.
Odis Jackson was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of a drug offense in 2003. He filed a motion for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act of 2018, which was denied, but the Fifth Circuit remanded his case because the district court failed to provide reasons.
On remand, the district court again denied Jackson’s motion, this time explaining “that it exercised its discretion not to resentence.” While assuming, without finding, that Jackson was eligible under the First Step Act, the district court reasoned that Jackson’s current sentence still fell within the permissible statutory range, Jackson played a central role in his offense, and his prior convictions gave him the highest criminal history score available under the Guidelines.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding for the first time that rulings on motions to resentence under the First Step Act are subject to the abuse of discretion standard “because the FSA gives the district court broad discretion in deciding whether to resentence.” However, the Court noted that a de novo standard applies to eligibility for resentencing under the FSA.
In finding Jackson eligible, the Court noted that it is the statute of conviction, not the Guidelines calculation involving relevant conduct, that determines whether a defendant has a “covered offense” under the FSA. If the statute’s penalties were modified by the FSA, a violation of the statute is a “covered offense.” Though Jackson’s relevant conduct included a higher quantity of drugs in his PSR and Guidelines calculation, his offense was covered because only a certain amount was alleged in the indictment and under a specific statutory provision, one that had been modified by the FSA.
However, the Court concluded that, while Jackson was eligible, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion for a sentence reduction. Moreover, the court was not obligated to hold a hearing, order an updated PSR, or consider Jackson’s post-sentencing conduct.
On Appeal from the Southern District of Texas
Opinion by Smith, joined by Davis and Costa