In U.S. v. Liberse, No. 12-10243 (July 30, 2012), the Court held that a crack cocaine offender was eligible for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) based on Amendment 750 to the Sentencing Guidelines, even though the defendant had been subject to a mandatory minimum punishment.
Liberse’s guideline range for his crack cocaine offense, at a criminal history of IV, was 121-151 months. The mandatory minimum punishment of 120 months therefore did not directly affect his sentence. After the sentencing court imposed a 121-month term of incarceration, the government moved for a Rule 35(b) "substantial assistance" sentence reduction. The district court reduced the sentence to 97 months. Thereafter, Liberse sought a reduction pursuant to Amendment 750. The district court denied the motion, reasoning that Liberse remained subject to the same 120-month statutory mandatory punishment, which the Sentencing Commission lacked authority to reduce.
Reversing, the Court noted that Liberse was not sentenced based on the 120-month mandatory minimum, but at the low end of his original guideline range of 121-151 months.
The Court noted that it was not clear, after the Fair Sentencing Act, what the statutory mandatory minimum was. If the FSA applied to Liberse – he was sentenced before the FSA took effect, so Dorsey v. United States (FSA applies to defendants sentenced post-FSA) does not apply to him – his mandatory minimum would be 5 years, but if the FSA did not apply, his mandatory minimum would remain 10 years. Regardless of whether the FSA applies, Amendment 750 lowers Liberse’s sentencing range. Further, because Liberse received a Rule 35(b) substantial assistance reduction, the Guidelines provide that a comparable reduction based on a retroactive amendment "may be appropriate."
The Court left it to the district court to decide in the first instance whether the FSA applied to Liberse, noting that it was considering the same issue in a pending case, U.S. v. Hippolilyte, No. 11-15933.