Eleventh Circuit Determines Motion for a Sentence Reduction is Properly Denied When a Prisoner Offers No Justification to Depart From a Previously Affirmed Finding

In United States v. Anderson, No. 13-12945 (Nov. 19, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit considered the denial of Anderson’s second motion for a sentence reduction based on Amendment 750 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and identified three issues on appeal: (1) whether the district court had jurisdiction to consider Anderson’s renewed 18 U.S.C. § 3583(c)(2) motion based on Amendment 750, (2) whether Anderson’s motion is precluded by the law-of-the-case doctrine, and (3) whether the district court erred in determining that Anderson did not qualify for a sentence reduction because the Amendment 750 motion did not have the effect of lowering his guidelines range.

After a federal jury convicted Anderson of seven drug related offenses, with a base offense level of 42, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Anderson filed a 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) motion for sentence reduction based on Amendment 750 of the Sentencing Guidelines, which raised the amount of crack cocaine necessary under U.S.S.G. 2D1.1(c) to receive a base offense level of 38 from 4.5 kilograms to 8.4 kilograms. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of this motion, finding no abuse of discretion and noting that Amendment 750 did not effectively reduce Anderson’s guidelines range since his conviction involved over 15kg of crack cocaine. His base offense level was still 42, which converted to an unchanged term of 360 months to life imprisonment. Anderson then filed a renewed 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) motion for reduction of sentence in May of 2013, arguing that the district court was obligated to recalculate the guidelines range based on marijuana equivalents for crack cocaine. Anderson then appealed the denial of the motion.

Concerning the first issue, the government argued that the district court did not even have jurisdiction to consider Anderson’s renewed motion because a motion based on the same amendment had already been fully litigated. Anderson responded that because the statute contained no restrictive language, any limitation on the ability to file a renewed motion was procedural rather than jurisdictional. On this issue, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with Anderson and held that § 3582(c)(2) contained no jurisdictional element. The Court analogized United States v. Phillips, 597 F.3d 1190 (11th Cir. 2010) and extended its principle that 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) proceedings are to be considered sentencing proceedings from grants of such motions to their denials.

In addressing the second issue, the Eleventh Circuit defined the law-of-the-case doctrine as a self-imposed doctrine for efficiency and finality that can be raised sua sponte and binds subsequent proceedings in the same case to the explicit and implicit rulings of the appellate decisions. While the Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that the district court should have used the marijuana equivalency tables to calculate Anderson’s guidelines range, its failure to do so was harmless because the 15kg of crack cocaine for which Anderson was convicted would not turn into a lesser amount when converted into its marijuana equivalent.

Having identified this harmless error, the Eleventh Circuit did not need to address the merits, and it affirmed the district court’s order denying Anderson’s renewed 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) (2) motion based on Amendment 750 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

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