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9th Circuit Court of Appeals


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United States v. Lee

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 08-07-2013
Case #: 11-10460
Per Curiam: Circuit Judges Reinhardt, Thomas, and Paez for the Court
Full Text Opinion: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2013/08/07/11-10460.pdf

Criminal Law: A district court must use sentencing guidelines as a starting point rather than using a predetermined sentence and working backwards to make their desired sentence fit within the guidelines.

Jackie Yong Lee was indicted for involvement in the Ichihara drug network of Guam, for whom she transported methamphetamine. She pled guilty to a count of distribution of more than 3,000 grams as well as a forfeiture count, in exchange for dropping another distribution charge and the promise of the government to ask for a reduction in sentence for “substantial assistance.” At sentencing, Lee’s base sentencing rate was calculated to be thirty-eight. She was then granted a ten-level reduction due to her assistance to the government in prosecuting other members of the Ichihara network. After discovering that the original base rate calculation was incorrect and should have been thirty-five, the government changed its request to only ask for a seven level reduction, stating that they believed Lee’s sentence should be ninety-six months. The district court used the level twenty-eight base rate and imposed a sentence of ninety-six months. The Ninth Circuit found that the district court had already granted the ten-level reduction before it was brought to their attention that the base rate was calculated incorrectly, therefore the panel held that the reduction should have been applied to the new base rate rather than altering the reduction to fit the sentence, which would yield a sentencing range of only sixty-three to seventy-eight months. Furthermore, due to confusion created by Lee’s usage of the term “ice” as a general term, the panel found that Lee’s base sentencing rate should have been thirty-four, as the methamphetamine in question was of lower purity than the statute’s definition of “ice.” Finally, the panel held that the district court had failed to calculate a revised statutory minimum sentence, thus the panel could not determine whether Lee’s sentence was appropriate, providing factors for the district court to consider on resentencing. VACATED and REMANDED.