United States v. Tercero

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 10-31-2013
  • Case #: 12-10404
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge D. Nelson for the Court; Circuit Judges Ikuta and M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

Although 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) “authorizes district courts to reduce a sentence retroactively when the Commission has subsequently lowered a Sentencing range,” Congress intended that “any sentence reductions be consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission,” including U.S.S.G § 1B1.10(b)(2)(a) which prohibits courts “from reducing a defendant’s term of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)…to a term that is less than the minimum of the amended guideline range.”

Prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act ("FSA") in 2010, Teniah Tercero was convicted of a single count of possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and sentenced to 72 months in prison. The conviction was “in exchange for the dismissal of the charges in the indictment” which would have resulted in a longer sentence. After the FSA passed, Tercero filed a “[18 U.S.C.] § 3582 motion to reduce her sentence to 58 months” because the FSA reduced the Sentencing Guidelines for crack cocaine offenses, and she argued that the FSA should apply retroactively. The district granted in part and denied in part Tercero’s motion and reduced her sentence to 70 months because it held that it did not have the authority to reduce any further, citing U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(a). The former version of U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(a) allowed for adjustment of sentencing below amended minimums if the prisoner had received a “below-Guideline sentence.” Because the former version “proved difficult to administer and prompted litigation,” the Sentencing Commission amended the rule after the FSA passed, and prohibited courts “from reducing a defendant’s term of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)…to a term that is less than the minimum of the amended guideline range.” The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err because, although 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) “authorizes district courts to reduce a sentence retroactively when the Commission has subsequently lowered a Sentencing range,” Congress had intended that “any sentence reductions be consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission,” and therefore the district court’s interpretation of the plain language of the statute was correct. AFFIRMED.

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