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United States v. Rivera-Cruz

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

September 24, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
REYNALDO RIVERA-CRUZ, Appellant

          Submitted Under Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a) September 7, 2018

          On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 1-06-cr-00043-001) District Judge: Honorable Christopher C. Conner

          Carlo D. Marchioli Office of United States Attorney Attorney for Appellee

          Ronald A. Krauss Office of Federal Public Defender Attorney for Appellant

          Before: HARDIMAN, KRAUSE, and BIBAS, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          HARDIMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Reynaldo Rivera-Cruz appeals an order of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denying his motion for a sentence reduction. The relevant statute (18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)) authorizes sentence reductions for defendants initially "sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on" a United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) range that was later lowered by the United States Sentencing Commission. In Koons v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1783 (2018), the Supreme Court held that such relief is unavailable to a defendant whose Guidelines range is "scrapped" in favor of a statutory mandatory minimum sentence. Id. at 1787-88. We now hold that the same is true where, as here, a statutory maximum displaces the defendant's Guidelines range.

         I

         Rivera-Cruz pleaded guilty to distributing and possessing with intent to manufacture and distribute cocaine hydrochloride, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). The quantity of drugs involved yielded a base offense level of 32, see USSG § 2D1.1(c)(4) (2006), and the United States Probation Office recommended a two-level firearm enhancement and a two-level obstruction of justice enhancement. Based on a total offense level of 36 and a criminal history category of VI, Rivera-Cruz's presentence report (PSR) calculated his Guidelines range as 324-405 months' imprisonment. Because Rivera-Cruz's offense carried a statutory maximum of 240 months' imprisonment, however, the PSR fixed his Guidelines range at that number. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C); USSG §§ 1B1.1(a)(8), 5G1.1(a).

         At Rivera-Cruz's March 2010 sentencing hearing, the District Court adopted the PSR's findings and agreed that "because the statutory maximum penalty is 20 years, the [G]uideline sentence is restricted to 240 months." App. 122. The District Court then considered the Government's motion for a downward departure under USSG § 5K1.1 to account for Rivera-Cruz's substantial assistance to the Government. The Government requested a sentence of 25 months below the mandatory maximum, or 215 months' imprisonment. After discussing the relevant factors in § 5K1.1, the District Court announced that it would grant the motion. In accordance with Third Circuit precedent, it calculated the extent of the departure in terms of "offense levels as opposed to specific quantities of time." App. 127; see also United States v. Fumo, 655 F.3d 288, 316-17 (3d Cir. 2011) (explaining that, unlike a variance, a departure "change[s] the Guidelines range" and thus requires the sentencing court to "calculate a final guideline offense level and . . . range"). The Court settled on a five-level departure to an offense level of 31, noting that the Government-recommended sentence of 215 months fell "approximately in the middle" of the corresponding range of 188-235 months' imprisonment. App. 127. It then sentenced Rivera-Cruz to 188 months' imprisonment. Rivera-Cruz unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentence. United States v. Rivera-Cruz, 401 Fed.Appx. 677, 678 (3d Cir. 2010).

         Four years later, the Sentencing Commission adopted Guidelines Amendment 782, which retroactively reduced Rivera-Cruz's base offense level by two. See USSG App. C, Amdt. 782 (2014); id. § 1B1.10(d); see also 28 U.S.C. § 994(o). With a total offense level of 34 (consisting of a base offense level of 30 and the aforementioned enhancements) and the same criminal history category, Rivera-Cruz's applicable Guidelines range would have been 262-327 months' imprisonment. Because of the statutory maximum, however, Rivera-Cruz's Guidelines range remained fixed at 240 months.

         In June 2016, Rivera-Cruz requested a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), citing Amendment 782. In addition to requiring that a defendant's initial sentence be "based on" a subsequently lowered range, § 3582(c)(2) requires that a Guidelines amendment cited in support of a § 3582(c)(2) motion "have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range." USSG § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B); 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) (requiring all sentence reductions to be "consistent with applicable policy statements," including USSG § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B)). Rivera-Cruz acknowledged that the 240-month statutory maximum supplanted his initial Guidelines range both before and after Amendment 782. He nevertheless argued that, in light of his five-level downward departure, Amendment 782 effectively reduced his offense level from 31 to 29, which "ha[d] the effect of lowering [his] applicable guideline range," § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B), from 188-235 months' imprisonment to 151-188 months. And because the District Court used his otherwise applicable-i.e., pre-maximum-Guidelines range of 324-405 months' imprisonment as a baseline for its downward departure, he argued, his sentence was "based on" a range lowered by the Sentencing Commission as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Citing the District Court's original bottom-of-the-range sentence, Rivera-Cruz requested a 151-month sentence.

         The District Court denied Rivera-Cruz's motion. It did not determine whether Rivera-Cruz was initially sentenced "based on" a later lowered range, instead reasoning that, because of the statutory maximum, Amendment 782 had no effect ...


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