United States v. White, No. 12-3299 (10th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on a district court's authority to grant a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). Defendant Joseph White was initially charged with 16 drug- and gun-related counts. The government agreed to drop all remaining counts against him in exchange for his pleading guilty to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. White was then sentenced to a term of imprisonment outside of the advisory guideline range: after the sentencing court imposed a mandatory 60-month sentence for all section 924(c) convictions, it exercised its discretion and departed upward by an additional 87 months to account for the drug trafficking conduct that gave rise to White's conviction but which had been dismissed pursuant to his plea agreement. The 87-month figure was computed under old crack cocaine guidelines as if White had in fact been convicted of possessing crack. When the Sentencing Commission retroactively lowered the crack cocaine guidelines in response to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, White filed a pro se section 3582(c)(2) motion and requested that the district court reduce his 87-month departure to accord with the new crack cocaine guidelines. The district court disagreed with White's argument that the rejected crack guidelines played a role in his original sentence, so that he should have been eligible for a sentence reduction to correct that disparity. Recognizing that the Sentencing Commission enacted a policy statement that expressly precluded courts from reducing a departure portion of an originally imposed sentence, the court denied White's sentence modification motion. White appealed, arguing that the policy statement could not mean what it said: either because it was inconsistent with the plain language section 3582(c)(2), or because it produced an absurd result, or if consistent and rational, because it violated the Constitution's nondelegation and separation of powers principles. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of the case that White did not show that he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission. "It is well-settled in this circuit, and elsewhere, that the range upon which a sentence is 'based' is the range produced under the guidelines' sentencing table after a correct determination of the defendant's total offense level and criminal history category but prior to any discretionary departures." The district court did not err in holding that White was ineligible for a sentence reduction under 3582(c)(2). However, his motion should have been dismissed, not on the merits, but on lack of jurisdictional grounds.