United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR
REDUCED SENTENCE UNDER 18 U.S.C. § 3582(C)(2) AND
Lawrence L. Piersol United States District Judge
Benjamin Melendez-Rocha filed a pro se motion for a reduced
sentence pursuant to Amendment 782 of the United States
Sentencing Guidelines and the provisions of 18 U.S.C. §
3582(c)(2). (Doc. 1299.) The government resists the motion.
(Doc. 1300.) For the reasons set forth below,
Melendez-Rocha's motion will be denied.
December 10, 2010, Melendez-Rocha was sentenced by this court
after a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to distribute a
mixture or substance containing 500 grams or more of
methamphetamine and conspiracy to commit money laundering as
charged in counts 1 and 3 of the indictment. The Court
sustained Melendez-Rocha's objection to a four-level
increase in his base offense level for being an organizer or
leader and instead applied only the three-level enhancement
as a manager. Melendez-Rocha's total offense level was
41. With a criminal history category of VI,
Melendez-Rocha's advisory guideline range was 360 months
to life imprisonment. Melendez-Rocha's lawyer argued in
favor of a variance below 30 years of imprisonment, comparing
him with the leader of the conspiracy whose role in the
offense was much greater and who had received a sentence of
30 years of imprisonment, and contending that
Melendez-Rocha's sentence should not be as long. After
considering the factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553, and in
particular noting that Melendez-Rocha had a criminal history
category of VI, the Court determined that there was no basis
for a downward variance. (Doc. 1115 at 15.) Melendez-Rocha
was sentenced to 360 months on the methamphetamine conspiracy
charge and 240 months on the money laundering conspiracy
charge, both sentences to run concurrently and also to run
concurrently with sentences that were imposed in Arizona.
Melendez-Rocha's sentencing, the government realized that
a prior drug conviction did not meet the requirements for
increased punishment under 21 U.S.C. § 851(a), and the
government withdrew an information providing notice that it
would seek increased punishment pursuant to section 851(a)
for that conviction. In light of this new development and
Melendez-Rocha's motion to correct his sentence under
Rule 3 5(a), the Court vacated the sentence and held another
sentencing hearing on December 18, 2010. There, the Court
granted Melendez-Rocha's objection to the career offender
enhancement and thus his criminal history category was not
enhanced to VI. The government agreed that
Melendez-Rocha's criminal history category was III rather
than VI. (Doc. 1118 at 8.) With a total offense level of 41
and criminal history category III, Melendez-Rocha's
advisory guideline range remained at 360 months to life
criminal history category of III instead of VI prompted the
Court to revisit the issue of a variance at the second
sentencing hearing. (Doc. 1118 at 12.) Although the
co-defendant and leader of the conspiracy was found guilty on
the marijuana count, the Court noted that Melendez-Rocha was
found not guilty on that count. (Id.) The Court also
credited Melendez-Rocha for not having a gun enhancement.
(Id. at 12-13.) The Court concluded that a variance
would be granted in order to avoid unwarranted sentencing
disparities. A sentence of 348 months imprisonment was
imposed on the methamphetamine conspiracy count.
(Id. at 14.)
direct appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed
Melendez-Rocha's conviction and sentence. See United
States v. Diaz-Pellegaud, 666 F.3d 2012 (8th Cir. 2012).
On January 5, 2016, this Court denied Melendez-Rocha's
motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence filed
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See CIV. 13-4102,
docs. 26, 27. That decision is currently on appeal before the
Eighth Circuit. Id., doc. 28.
the Sentencing Commission adopted Amendment 782, made
retroactive by U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10, Melendez-Rocha filed
his first motion for a sentence reduction based on Amendment
782 on August 26, 2015. (Doc. 1280.) Essentially, Amendment 782
"applies retroactively to reduce most drug quantity base
offense levels by two levels." United States v.
Lawin, 779 F.3d 780, 781 n. 2 (8th Cir. 2015) (per
curiam) (citing United States v. Thomas, 775 F.3d
982 (8th Cir. 2014)). Under Amendment 782,
Melendez-Rocha's new total offense level is 39 rather
than 41and, with a criminal history category of III, his
sentencing range is 324 to 405 months. In an Order issued on
September 25, 2015, the Court granted the motion for a
sentence reduction and reduced Melendez-Rocha's sentence
to 324 months imprisonment on the methamphetamine count.
Melendez-Rocha's pending pro se motion he asserts that
educational achievements and vocational rehabilitation he has
accomplished in prison entitle him to a further reduction in
his sentence under Amendment 782 and the provisions of 18
U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).
district court may reduce a term of imprisonment under 18
U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) if a defendant's sentence was
based on a sentencing range subsequently lowered by the
Sentencing Commission, and that a reduction is
"consistent with applicable policy statements issued by
the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).
The United States Sentencing Commission has imposed
restrictions on a court's ability to reduce a sentence,
and courts have no choice but to follow the Sentencing
Commission's applicable policy statements in considering
a sentence reduction. The Supreme Court has stated that
§ 3582(c)(2) "provides for the 'modification
of] a term of imprisonment' by giving courts the power to
'reduce' an otherwise final sentence in circumstances
specified by the Commission, " and does not provide for
"a plenary resentencing proceeding." Dillon v.
United States, 560 U.S. 817, 825-26 (2010) (citing 28
U.S.C. § 994(a)(2)(C)) (alterations in original).
Because the Commission maintained the ability to determine
the scope and content of available sentence reductions under
§ 3582(c)(2), courts are "constrained by the
Commission's statements dictating 'by what
amount' the sentence of a prisoner serving a term of
imprisonment affected by the amendment 'may be
reduced.'" Id. at 826. Section
1B1.10(b)(2)(A) of the sentencing guidelines states, in
relevant part, that "the court shall not reduce the
defendant's term of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. §
3582(c)(2) and this policy statement to a term that is less
than the minimum of the amended guideline range...." The
Supreme Court established a two-part analysis to guide a
district court in considering a § 3582(c) motion.
See Dillon, 560 U.S. at 826-27. First, the court
must recalculate the applicable guideline range by
determining what it would have been if the amended guideline
had been in effect at the time of sentencing. Id. at
827; see also U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(1). A
reduction under § 3582(c)(2) is not authorized unless
the amended guideline has "the effect of lowering the
defendant's applicable guideline range."
See U.S.S.G. § 1 Bl. 10(a)(2)(B). Second, if a
defendant is eligible for a sentence reduction, the district
court must consider any applicable sentencing factors listed
in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and decide whether to exercise
its discretion to reduce the defendant's original
sentence, and to what extent, see Dillon, 560 U.S.
at 827, keeping in mind, however, that the Sentencing
Commission has decreed that a court may not reduce a
defendant's sentence to a term less than the low end of
the amended guideline range.
case, the Court completed the two-step process for
Melendez-Rocha before granting his first motion for a
sentence reduction. First, the Court determined that, under
Amendment 782, Melendez-Rocha's new total offense level
is 39, his criminal history category remains at III, and his
sentencing range is 324 to 405 months. Next, the Court
considered relevant § 3553(a) factors and reduced
Melendez-Rocha's sentence to the bottom of the new
guideline range (324 months) on the methamphetamine count,
which is the lowest sentence that the Court had authority to
impose under the parameters set by the Sentencing Commission.
Court commends Melendez-Rocha for his efforts to improve
himself while in prison, but the Court has no authority to
reduce Melendez-Rocha's sentence any further.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Defendant Benjamin
Melendez-Rocha's pro se motion for modified sentence