In U.S. v. Quirante, No. 06-13527 (May 21, 2007), the Court vacated the sentence because the sentencing court erroneously believed that the safety-valve statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), merely gave it discretion to sentence a defendant pursuant to the Guidelines, instead of the mandatory statutory minimum. In reality, the safety-valve mandated a sentence pursuant to the Guidelines.
The statutory mandatory minimum for Quirante’s drug offense was 120 months. His advisory guideline range was 70-87 months. Quirante met all the requirements of the safety-valve. Nevertheless, the district court imposed a 120 month sentence, because it believed that the safety-valve was merely "discretionary," and it did not believe the defendant’s conduct warranted application of the safety-valve.
Reversing, the Court pointed out that the language of the safety-valve statute is mandatory, not discretionary. "The statutory language states that when a defendant . . . meets the five specified [safety-valve] requirements (as Quirante did), ‘the court shall impose a sentence pursuant to the guidelines.’ The word ‘shall’ does not convey discretion."
While remanding the case for resentencing, the Court expressed no view on whether a sentence higher than the 70-87 months advisory Guideline range would have been reasonable in the exercise of the sentencing court’s post-Booker § 3553(a) discretion. The Court also noted it was not addressing whether the safety-valve applies when the Guideline range is above the statutory minimum.