7.05.2011

Fourth Circuit (splitting with other circuits) finds problem with appeal wavier demand for extra acceptance reduction

From the Sentencing Law & Policy Blog:

Hard-core sentencing fans (and perhaps only hard-core sentencing fans) should find very interesting and perhaps somewhat surprising a ruling today from the Fourth Circuit in US v. Divens, No. 09-4967 (4th Cir. July 5, 2011) (available here). Here is the start of the opinion along with an excerpt from part of the opinion spotlighting why the Fourth Circuit is splitting from its sisters on this issue:

Lashawn Dwayne Divens pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Divens signed an acceptance of responsibility statement but declined to sign a plea agreement waiving certain rights to appellate review and collateral attack. Solely because Divens would not waive these rights, the Government refused to move for an additional one-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(b). Divens appeals, challenging the district court’s failure to compel the Government to move for the § 3E1.1(b) reduction. For the reasons that follow, we vacate Divens’s sentence and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.....

Section 3E1.1(a) of the Guidelines provides for a two-level decrease in a defendant’s offense level if he "clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility for his offense."... The district court awarded Divens the two-level reduction under § 3E1.1(a), but because the Government refused to file a motion under § 3E1.1(b), the court did not award Divens the additional one-level reduction provided by that subsection. The Government makes no claim that Divens does not qualify for a decrease.... [;] the Government’s sole contention is that Divens’s failure to sign the appellate waiver justifies the Government’s refusal to move for the additional one-level reduction under § 3E1.1(b)....

[In our view], under § 3E1.1(b) the Government retains discretion to refuse to move for an additional one-level reduction, but only on the basis of an interest recognized by the guideline itself — not, as with § 5K1.1, on the basis of any conceivable legitimate interest.

We recognize that this holding does not accord with that of other circuits. See United States v. Deberry, 576 F.3d 708 (7th Cir. 2009); United States v. Johnson, 581 F.3d 994 (9th Cir. 2009); United States v. Beatty, 538 F.3d 8 (1st Cir. 2008); United States v. Newson, 515 F.3d 374 (5th Cir. 2008). Those courts have concluded that the Government may withhold a § 3E1.1(b) motion based on any rational interest. This conclusion relies heavily on cases interpreting § 5K1.1.

In our view, for the reasons explained above, the commentary to § 3E1.1(b) forecloses courts from relying on § 5k1.1 cases in interpreting § 3E1.1(b). This commentary, however, has received little attention from our sister circuits. Instead, those courts focus almost exclusively on the fact that Congress in 2003 amended § 3E1.1(b) to insert the governmental motion requirement. See PROTECT Act, Pub. L. No. 108-21, § 401(g). According to those courts, the mere fact of this 2003 amendment somehow demonstrates that Congress intended that the Government possess the wide discretion under § 3E1.1(b) that it enjoys under § 5K1.1. But nothing in the 2003 reforms evinces such an intent. After all, Congress could have amended the § 3E1.1(b) commentary so that it conformed to the commentary surrounding § 5K1.1. Congress declined to do so; it instead left unchanged § 3E1.1(b)’s mandatory commentary and inserted language suggesting that the Government’s newfound discretion applies only to the question of "whether the defendant has assisted authorities in a manner that avoids preparing for trial." U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1 cmt. 6.


2 Comments:

At 12:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the past 3 years, the Ninth Circuit has heard this "3E1.1(b)" argument, and it has referred each decision to United States v. Beltran-Medina, a decision that has a questionable legal pedigree, to say the least.

And why has the Ninth Circuit refused to consider the methodology the Fourth Circuit used to "split" for the others? Because it associated 5K3.1 with 3E1.1, and since there was unfettered discretion for the former, naturally there would be unfettered discretion for the latter.

The Fourth, however, puts this argument to bed--and rightly so. The Fourth Circuit's analysis is unassailable, clear, and refers to the logic behind 3E1.1 precisely.

Personally, I cheer the Fourth Circuit for doing the right thing, and should our Supreme Court choose to address this issue further, I am sure the Fourth's argument will prevail; as it should.

Thank you, Fourth Circuit, thank you.

 
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