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United States v. Huerta

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

April 23, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSE HUERTA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          BRIAN MORRIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Defendant Jose Huerta requests that this Court reduce his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3582(c), Amendments 782 and 788 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, and the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-291, 132 Stat. 5194, 5221 (Dec. 21, 2018). (Doc. 253.) Huerta bases his motion on two events: (1) California's passage of Proposition 47 (“Prop 47”), which could retroactively reclassify Huerta's prior drug offense from a felony to a misdemeanor and (2) the two-level reduction in the base offense level for his offense of conviction. Id. at 1.

         The Government filed its initial response on March 18, 2019. (Doc. 255.) The Government highlights that Huerta was convicted on conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute methamphetamine, not crack cocaine. (Doc. 255 at 2.) The Government contends that as a result the retroactive provision of the Act fails to apply to Huerta's conviction. Id. The Government neglected to respond, however, to Huerta's argument that he stands entitled to a reduced sentence based on Amendments 782 and 788 to the Sentencing Guidelines.

         The Court issued an order that denied in part and held in abeyance in part Huerta's Motion for Reduction of Sentence on March 19, 2019. (Doc. 256.) The Court determined that it remained precluded from reducing Huerta's sentence pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018 as the Court had sentenced Huerta before December 21, 2018. Id. at 10-11. The Court ordered the Government to file a response to Huerta's Motion for Reduced Sentence on the issue of whether Huerta proves entitled to a reduced sentence based on Amendments 782 and 788 to the Sentencing Guidelines within 14 days of the filing of its March 19, 2019 order. Id. at 12.

         The Government timely filed the requested response on April 1, 2019. (Doc. 257.) Huerta filed a supplemental brief in support of his Motion for Reduction of Sentence on April 4, 2019. (Doc. 258.)

         BACKGROUND

         The Grand Jury indicted Huerta on October 5, 2005, on the following four counts: Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine (Count I); Distribution of Over 50 Grams of Methamphetamine (Count II); Possession with Intent to Distribute Over 500 Grams of Methamphetamine (Count III); and Maintaining Drug Involved Premises (Count IV). (Doc. 22.) Huerta pleaded guilty to Count I of the Indictment pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(A) and (B) on November 30, 2005. (Docs. 106, 120.)

         The Government filed a 21 U.S.C. § 851(b) Information (“851 Information”) on October 19, 2005. (Doc. 36.) The 851 Information sought to establish that Huerta possessed a prior drug conviction that would subject him to increased penalties pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 481(b). (Doc. 36.) The Court conducted a hearing on the 851 Information immediately before Huerta's sentencing hearing on March 9, 2006. (Doc. 155.) The Court determined that Huerta possessed a prior felony drug conviction. (Doc. 183 at 35.)

         The Court stated, at the sentencing hearing, that Huerta had earned a total offense level of twenty-nine and a criminal history category of three. Id. at 38. Huerta's corresponding advisory guideline range equaled 108 to 135 months. Id. The Court noted, however, that its acceptance of the 851 Information required the Court to impose the statutory mandatory minimum of 20 years as set forth in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Id. The Court explained that the statute prohibits “imposition of any sentence that is below the statutory minimum of 240 months, notwithstanding the advisory guideline calculation” in this case. Id. The Court imposed a sentence of 240 months. (Docs. 155, 158.)

         DISCUSSION

         The Government opposes Huerta's motion for two reasons. (Doc. 257 at 2.) First, the Government contends that Huerta's sentence was not “based on” the United States Sentencing Guidelines as the Court sentenced Huerta to a mandatory minimum. Id. at 2. Second, the Government claims that “the Court does not have the authority to reduce” Huerta's sentence as the policy statements found in United States Sentencing Guidelines § 1B1.10 prove inapplicable to Huerta's case. Id.

         The Court “must consult [the Sentencing] Guidelines and take them into account when sentencing” a defendant. United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 264, 125 S.Ct. 738 (2005). Section 3582(c) authorizes the Court to modify a defendant's term of imprisonment when the sentence imposed was “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

         Amendment 782 amended United States Sentencing Guidelines § 2D1.1 and § 2D1.11 effective November 1, 2014. Amendment 782 “reduced by two levels the offense levels assigned to the quantities that trigger the statutory mandatory minimum penalties in § 2D1.1, and made parallel changes to § 2D1.11.” Amendment 788 to the ...


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