United States v. Spaulding, No. 13-1376 (10th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
In May 2011, Mark Feltz, an undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, learned that A.J. Aldridge was willing to sell methamphetamine and firearms. Feltz arranged to purchase a gun and one ounce of methamphetamine. Feltz contacted a supplier, Robert Blankenship, and arranged to pay for two ounces of methamphetamine. They agreed to complete the transaction at a liquor store in Englewood, Colorado. Blankenship indicated he would send a relative to deliver the methamphetamine. After Feltz arrived at the liquor store, Michael Spaulding pulled into the parking lot in a GMC truck. Feltz entered the truck and completed the transaction. Spaulding was subsequently arrested and charged, along with Aldridge and Blankenship, with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine. Spaulding and the government entered into a plea agreement. Spaulding agreed to plead guilty to distributing methamphetamine and to cooperate with the government in investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by him and his co-defendants. In exchange for his guilty plea and cooperation, the government agreed to (1) recommend a three-level decrease to Spaulding's offense level for acceptance of responsibility, and (2) move for a downward departure for substantial assistance. Rather than imposing a sentence in the seventy-seven to ninety-six month range recommended by the government, the district court imposed a sentence of 137 months, the top of the advisory guidelines range set out in the PSR. When the government asked the district court to reconcile its grant of a section 5K1.1 motion with a sentence at the top of the pre-departure advisory sentencing range, the district court stated it had accepted the motion, but was "not following [the government's] recommendation." In support of its chosen sentence, the district court cited Spaulding's lengthy criminal history. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, in review of Spaulding's appeal of the sentence he received, surmised this case presented a significant jurisdictional question: whether 18 U.S.C. 3231 allowed a district court, absent government objection, to set aside a criminal judgment that contains a term of imprisonment at any time and for any reason. Or, instead, was a district court empowered to set aside such a judgment only in the situations listed in 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)? The Tenth Circuit concluded that section 3231 did not, standing alone, confer upon a district court jurisdiction to set aside a previously imposed criminal judgment that contains a term of imprisonment. Instead, district courts have jurisdiction to alter such criminal judgments only to the extent "expressly permitted by statute or by Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure." Because it did not act pursuant to statutory authority or Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35, the district court acted without jurisdiction when it vacated Michael Spaulding's original judgment of conviction. Accordingly, all of the actions and proceedings taken in this case after that point were void. The matter was, therefore, remanded to the district court to (1) vacate the judgment it entered on August 27, 2013, and (2) reenter the judgment imposed on December 6, 2012.