USA v. Bryon Taylor
OPINION filed : AFFIRMED, decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 206. Karen Nelson Moore, AUTHORING Circuit Judge; Richard Allen Griffin, Circuit Judge and Gordon J. Quist, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Michigan.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 12a0050n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Jan 13, 2012
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
ON APPEAL FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE NORTHERN
DISTRICT OF OHIO
Before: MOORE and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges; and QUIST, District Judge.*
KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge. Defendant-Appellant Bryon Taylor appeals
the district court’s denial of his motion for reduction of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)
in light of United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”) amendments lowering the base offense
level for certain cocaine-base offenses. Because the district judge considered the 18 U.S.C. § 3553
factors as applied to the particular circumstances of Taylor’s case and concluded that Taylor would
have received the same sentence if the Guidelines range had been lower, we AFFIRM.
Bryon Taylor pleaded guilty in 2004 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more
than 50 grams of cocaine base (crack) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. The
government filed a 21 U.S.C. § 851 enhancement motion based on Taylor’s prior drug trafficking
The Honorable Gordon J. Quist, United States District Judge for the Western District of
Michigan, sitting by designation.
United States v. Taylor
offense, which established a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 240 months of imprisonment;
although the government could have filed an additional § 851 motion based on a second prior
trafficking conviction, which would have resulted in a mandatory life sentence, it declined to do so.
Under then-existing U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1, the advisory sentencing range was 262 to 327 months.1
Because the guidelines range was above the mandatory minimum, the district judge used the
guidelines range as the starting point for the sentencing analysis. After a two-level reduction for
acceptance of responsibility and an additional three-level reduction for substantial assistance, the
range was 151 to 188 months of imprisonment.2 The judge considered the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)
factors, emphasizing Taylor’s criminal history, and the possibility of imposing a below-guidelines
sentence in recognition of the disparity in the guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
The district court ultimately imposed a sentence of 151 months of imprisonment and five years of
supervised release. Pursuant to his plea agreement, Taylor did not appeal.
In 2010, Taylor filed a motion for reduction in sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) based
on the retroactive application of Amendment 706, which lowered the base level for Taylor’s crack
cocaine offense. The district court held that Taylor was eligible for a reduction under § 3582(c)(2)
but nonetheless denied the motion. Taylor timely appealed.
For purposes of determining his base offense level, Taylor was held accountable for
possession of more than 150 grams of cocaine base. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3 & cmt. n.1.
The government’s motions for a departure under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1
permitted the court to sentence below the mandatory minimum.
United States v. Taylor
A. Standard of Review
We review a district court’s sentencing decisions, including the decision whether to reduce
a sentence under § 3582(c)(2), for an abuse of discretion. United States v. Curry, 606 F.3d 323, 327
(6th Cir. 2010). “A district court abuses its discretion when it relies on clearly erroneous findings
of fact, or when it improperly applies the law or uses an erroneous legal standard.” Id. (quoting
United States ex rel. A+ Homecare, Inc. v. Medshares Mgmt. Group, Inc., 400 F.3d 428, 450 (6th
B. Motion to Reduce Sentence
Although a district court generally cannot modify a sentence once it has been imposed, an
exception exists if the sentence was “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered
by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 994(o).” 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). In such
situations, “the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth
in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if such a reduction is consistent with
applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.” Id. The relevant policy
statement is U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10.
In 2007, the Sentencing Commission amended the Guidelines to reduce the base offense level
for most crack cocaine offenses, in recognition of the longstanding disparity in sentencing ranges
between crack and powder cocaine offenses. Amendment 706, which applies retroactively, can serve
United States v. Taylor
as the basis for a reduction in sentence under § 3582(c)(2). See United States v. Poole, 538 F.3d 644,
645-46 (6th Cir. 2008).
Section 3582(c)(2) does not require a reduction when the sentencing range has been lowered;
the decision is within the district court’s discretion. E.g., Curry, 606 F.3d at 327, 330; United States
v. Ursery, 109 F.3d 1129, 1137 (6th Cir. 1997).
In determining whether to grant a reduction, the judge must consider the § 3553(a) factors
and “the nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or the community that may be posed”
by the reduction. U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10 cmt. n.1(B). Because a § 3582(c)(2) reduction does not
constitute a full resentencing, however, the court need not expressly articulate its analysis of each
factor if the record demonstrates that the court indeed considered them. United States v. Watkins,
625 F.3d 277, 281 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Curry, 606 F.3d at 330-31). Evidence that the judge had
“considered the relevant factors in some depth at the original sentencing” can be relevant. Curry,
606 F.3d at 331. In Curry, we affirmed a district judge’s order that was “cursory at best” but stated
that the court had reviewed the record and considered the § 3553(a) factors. Id.
At Taylor’s original sentencing, the district judge calculated the range based on former
§ 2D1.1, then considered whether to impose a below-guidelines sentence based on the general
inequities of the crack/powder disparity. The judge was free to reject the 100-to-1 ratio on policy
grounds. Spears v. United States, 555 U.S. 261, 265-66 (2009). After evaluating the § 3553(a)
factors and the circumstances of Taylor’s case, the judge decided not to give a lower sentence,
determining that the guidelines sentence was appropriate as to this particular defendant. Taylor’s
United States v. Taylor
crime involved a large quantity of drugs, and he had a significant criminal history. Indeed, he would
have faced a mandatory life sentence but for the government’s decision not to file an additional § 851
motion. Thus, although the decision to impose a 151-month sentence was based on the former
§ 2D1.1, it was confirmed by a § 3553(a) analysis.
In deciding whether to grant a reduction, the district judge stated that she “fully reconsidered
all of the factors under § 3553(a)” and referred to her analysis at the original sentencing hearing.
R.67 (Dist. Ct. Mem. & Order at 4 & n.3). The order again emphasized Taylor’s criminal history
and the nature of his crime of conviction, an emphasis which reflects consideration of § 3553(a)(1)
(“the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant”)
and § 3553(a)(2) (“the need for the sentence imposed . . . to reflect the seriousness of the offense,
to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense”). The district court’s
explanation of its decision was sufficient and, indeed, was more extensive than in other orders that
we have affirmed. See United States v. Howard, 644 F.3d 455, 460-61 (6th Cir. 2011) (reviewing
our caselaw on this issue). Under these circumstances, the decision not to reduce Taylor’s sentence
under § 3582(c)(2) was not an abuse of discretion.
In its consideration of Taylor’s motion for a reduction in sentence under §3582(c)(2), the
district court evaluated the particular circumstances of Taylor’s case and explained why, in light of
those circumstances, reduction was not warranted. Accordingly, its decision to deny Taylor’s motion
was not an abuse of discretion. We AFFIRM.
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