Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hamilton: Crack Cocaine offender bears burden to show whether cocaine amount makes him eligible for reduction

In U.S. v. Hamilton, No. 12-10899 (April 23, 2013), the Court reversed the denial of a crack cocaine offender’s motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

Based on Hamilton’s “relevant conduct” and the “reasonably foreseeable acts of others in furtherance of jointly undertaken criminal activity,” the district court at the initial sentencing held Hamilton accountable for “at least 1.5 kilograms” of crack cocaine. This established a base offense level of 38.

As a result of subsequent retroactive Guideline amendments, in order for a crack cocaine offense to subject a person to level 38, the offense would have to involve 8.4 kilograms of cocaine.

It was unclear whether, after the Guideline amendments, Hamilton was entitled to a Guideline sentence reduction, because an offense involving “at least 1.5 kilograms” of crack cocaine can involve more, or less, than 8.4 kilograms.

The Court therefore instructed the district court on remand to determine whether Hamilton was now accountable for 8.4 kilograms of crack cocaine. The Court instructed the district court not to consider any new evidence, and not to enter any finding inconsistent with an original finding. If the district court could not determine Hamilton’s drug quantity with “sufficient specificity,” the court should not lower the sentence, because Hamilton, as the § 3582(c)(2) movant, bore the burden of showing that he would have received a lower sentence under a lower Guidelines range.