United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
October 21, 2016
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:89-cr-00162-4) (No. 1:89-cr-00162-2)
Axam Jr., Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued the cause
for appellant. With him on the briefs was A.J. Kramer,
Federal Public Defender.
Nicholas P. Coleman, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the
cause for appellee. With him on the briefs were Elizabeth
Trosman, Chrisellen R. Kolb, William B. Wiegand, and John
Dominguez, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
Before: Kavanaugh and Wilkins, Circuit Judges, and Williams,
Senior Circuit Judge.
Williams, Senior Circuit Judge
Melvin Butler and James Antonio Jones are each serving
lengthy prison sentences for drug offenses. Based on a recent
retroactive amendment to the United States Sentencing
Guidelines, they sought reductions of those sentences under
18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Although the district court
agreed that it could reduce their sentences, it declined to
do so after considering the relevant factors listed in 18
U.S.C. § 3553(a). United States v. Butler, 130
F.Supp.3d 317 (D.D.C. 2015).
challenge those denials as substantively unreasonable. Before
reaching the merits, we must consider our statutory basis to
hear these appeals and whether that authority extends to
reviewing the reasonableness of the district court's
decisions. Since we find that 28 U.S.C. § 1291 permits
such review, we consider the underlying denials and, finding
them to be reasonable, we affirm.
* * *
3582 of Title 18 sets out the statutory background for the
district court proceedings that we review. While it starts
with the general proposition that a court may not modify a
term of imprisonment "once it has been imposed, "
it goes on to create exceptions, notably § 3582(c)(2).
Where a defendant has been sentenced to a term "based on
a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the
Sentencing Commission . . ., the court may reduce the term of
imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in
section 3553(a) . . . if such a reduction is consistent with
applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing
Commission." Id. § 3582(c)(2); see
U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a) (policy statement on reductions);
see also Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817,
826-27 (2010) (further explaining the framework).
with several others, appellants were convicted in 1989 of
conspiracy to distribute large amounts of cocaine. After
post-trial motions and appeals (the details of which are not
relevant here), the district court determined that, based on
the quantity of drugs and various enhancements, the
then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines provided a range of 324
to 405 months for both Butler and Jones. The district court
then imposed sentences at or near the top of that range-405
months for Butler and 393 months for Jones. According to the
Bureau of Prisons, Butler is scheduled to be released on
October 14, 2017 and Jones on February 23, 2018.
twenty years later, the Sentencing Commission adopted
amendments that authorized retroactive reduction of the
sentences for most drug offenses. Unlike prior amendments
that targeted specific substances, Amendment 782 worked an
across-the-board reduction in the offense levels for most
drug crimes. And in Amendment 788 the Commission provided for
courts to apply the reduction retroactively after determining
that offense levels had previously been set unnecessarily
high and "that a reduction would be an appropriate step
toward alleviating the overcapacity of the federal
prisons." U.S.S.G. Supp. to App'x C, Amend. 788 at
86. But the Commission built a one-year delay into its
retroactivity amendment (until November 1, 2015), "to
give courts adequate time to obtain and review the
information necessary to make an individualized determination
. . . of whether a sentence reduction is appropriate"
based on the § 3553(a) factors. Id. at 87; see
also U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(e)(1).
Appellants filed unopposed motions invoking Amendment 782 to
reduce their sentences to time served as of November 1, 2015.
The district court agreed that appellants were each eligible
for a reduction under Amendment 782, which reduced their
sentencing ranges to 262 to 327 months. Butler, 130
F.Supp.3d at 321. (Although by that point appellants had each
served more than 327 months, the terms of Amendment 788
limited their maximum benefit to release on its November 1,
2015 start date.) Despite appellants' eligibility for
reductions, the district court considered defendants'
motions in light of the § 3553(a) factors ...