Downs v. United States, No. 16-5368 (6th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Downs pled guilty to conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 846. On August 2, 2010, the court orally pronounced a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, then the mandatory-minimum. The next day, the President signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced to five the mandatory minimum sentence for Downs's crime. On August 16, 2010, the court entered judgment in Downs’s case. In 2012, the Supreme Court held that the Act applied to defendants sentenced after August 3, 2010. Downs moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that he was not “sentenced” until the district court entered its judgment. The district court and Sixth Circuit disagreed. The law uniformly treats the date of the court’s oral pronouncement of sentence as the date of sentencing. While his co-defendants had later hearings and were sentenced under the Act, a court needs” legal grounds, not just equitable ones,” to apply the Act. Downs’s counsel was not constitutionally incompetent; the Act said nothing about having any retroactive effect. District courts are generally bound by the sentences they orally pronounce, so a motion for reconsideration would have been futile, as would a direct appeal.