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

The Federal Docket

December 21, 2020

Sentencing/First Step Act – A defendant is eligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act’s Section 404 (for crack cocaine convictions) if he faced a statutory sentencing range that has been reduced by the FSA, even if there were other drugs charged that triggered the same statutory sentencing range.

Otto Tayor was sentenced after being convicted of trafficking cocaine and crack cocaine in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was initially sentenced to life, which was later reduced to 30 years.

After the First Step Act of 2018 was passed into law, Taylor filed a motion for sentence reduction based on recent changes to the federal drug laws he was convicted under, particularly the laws reducing the mandatory minimums for crack cocaine and making those changes retroactive. The district court denied his motion, however, because Taylor’s offense involved powder cocaine and crack cocaine and thus was not a “covered offense” under the First Step Act.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit held that the First Step Act entitles individuals to move for a sentence reduction based on their conviction for a crack cocaine offense even where the offense involves crack cocaine and other controlled substances where the crack cocaine offense triggers a statutory sentencing range that has since been reduced under the FSA. It is irrelevant whether the quantity of powder cocaine or other controlled substances involved would still trigger the same statutory sentencing range. In other words, whether a defendant’s prior conviction is a “covered offense” under the First Step Act is based solely on the elements of the defendant’s offense, not his actual conduct or any other applicable sentencing range or mandatory minimum given other controlled substances charged.

The Court concluded that Taylor was eligible for a sentence reduction but that the district court was not obligated to conduct a plenary or de novo resentencing, and noted that the court could still decline to reduce Taylor’s sentence.

Appeal from the Northern District of Georgia

Opinion by Grant, joined by Marcus and Axon (by designation from N.D. Ala.)

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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