United States v. Black, No 13-6228

Decided: December 6, 2013

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Darnell Black’s (“Black”) motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

On September 14, 2006 Black pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. Because the offense involved more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, Black was subject to a statutory minimum sentence of 120 months imprisonment. On January 23, 2007, he received the minimum 120 months prison sentence. More than three years later, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (“FSA”) in response to criticism about the disparity in sentences between crack cocaine offenses and powder cocaine offenses. By increasing the quantity of crack cocaine necessary to trigger the 120 month minimum sentence from 50 grams to 280 grams, the FSA reduced statutory minimum sentences for such offenses. Under the FSA, Black would have been subject to a statutory minimum of 60 months imprisonment. In October 2012, Black filed a motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), which allows for a sentence reduction in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission. The district court, however, denied Black’s motion, relying on Fourth Circuit precedent holding that the FSA mandatory minimums do not apply retroactively.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reaffirmed prior precedent and held that the reduced statutory minimum sentences enacted in the FSA on August 3, 2010, do not apply retroactively to defendants who both committed crimes and were sentenced for those crimes before August 3, 2010. Addressing Black’s next argument, the court drew on the Supreme Court’s holding in Dorsey, that the FSA only applies prospectively to all sentences imposed after the Act’s effective date. Here, the court held that a proceeding commenced by filing a motion under § 3582(c)(2) is not a sentencing proceeding to which the holding of Dorsey applies. Lastly, the court concluded that Black was ineligible for a reduction under § 3582(c)(2) because the Sentencing Commission did not, nor could not, reduce the Congressionally mandated statutory minimum sentence for a person who has been convicted of a crack cocaine offense.

Full Opinion

-W. Ryan Nichols

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