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Career Offenders Might Not Benefit from Amendment 750

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on July 20, 2012 4:03 PM

A jury convicted Sedrick Lawson of knowingly and intentionally distributing a mixture and substance containing crack cocaine. Based on Lawson's total offense level and career-offender status, his guideline range was 262 to 327 months. At sentencing, the district court considered federal sentencing factors and sentenced Lawson to 262 months' imprisonment.

After Lawson was sentenced, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to give retroactive effect to parts of Amendment 750 to the federal sentencing guidelines, which implements the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Lawson moved for a modified sentence based on Amendment 750, but the district court decided that Amendment 750 had not lowered Lawson's career-offender guideline range. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.

So how did the appellate court reconcile Lawson’s situation with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Freeman v. United States?

In Freeman, the Supreme Court held that when a defendant accepts a plea bargain that recommends a particular sentence as a condition of a guilty plea, he may be eligible for a sentence reduction if the U.S. Sentencing Commission later lowers the sentencing range. While Freeman seems applicable at first glance, the Eleventh Circuit found that Lawson’s case was more similar to the facts in its 2008 U.S. v. Moore decision.

In Moore, the defendants were assigned a base offense level under one guideline section, but then assigned a total offense level and guideline range under a different guideline section. The Eleventh Circuit explained that when the defendants are sentenced as career offenders under Guideline § 4B1.1, their base offense levels under § 2D1.1 plays no role in the calculation of their guidelines ranges.

Like the Moore defendants, Lawson was initially assigned a base offense level under § 2D1.1. His total offense level and guideline range, however, were based on § 4B1.1, not § 2D1.1, because he was a career offender. Lawson’s base offense level under § 2D1.1 did not affect the calculation of his guideline range, so Amendment 750, which reduced base offense levels in § 2D1.1 but not in § 4B1.1, did not alter the sentencing range upon which Lawson’s sentence was based.

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