Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Denson: Section 404 of First Step Act Does Not Require a Hearing with the Defendant Present or Authorize a Plenary Re-sentencing

In United States v. Denson, No. 19-11696 (June 24, 2020) (Hull, Grant, Luck), the Court held—without oral argument—that Section 404 of the First Step Act does not require a district court to hold a hearing with the defendant present before ruling on a motion for a reduced sentence.

In this case, the district court granted the defendant’s motion and reduced his sentence to the low-end of the new guideline range, but it declined to go lower as the defendant had requested.  On appeal, the defendant argued that the court was required to hold a hearing with him present.  Joining the Fifth and Eighth Circuits, the Court rejected that argument after analyzing Section 404(c) and Rule 43.  And because Rule 43 did not require his presence, there was also no due process violation.  

The Court distinguished an earlier precedent involving a re-sentencing proceeding following the grant of a 2255 motion.  In so doing, the Court stated that Section 404 is a “limited remedy,” not a plenary or de novo re-sentencing.  It authorized a sentencing reduction only for counts that are “covered offenses,” and it does not permit courts to “change the defendant’s original guidelines calculations that are unaffected by sections 2 and 3” of the Fair Sentencing Act or “to reduce the defendant’s sentence on the covered offense based on changes in the law beyond those mandated by sections 2 and 3.”