from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 4:13-cr-00043-HLM-WEJ-1
WILLIAM PRYOR, JORDAN, and BALDOCK, [*] Circuit Judges.
WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judge:
appeal requires us to apply the rule of Marks v. United
States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977), to the splintered opinion
in Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522 (2011), to
determine whether a defendant who entered into a plea
agreement that recommended a particular sentence as a
condition of his guilty plea is eligible for a reduced
sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Erik Hughes pleaded
guilty to drug and firearm offenses and entered into a
binding plea agreement with the government, Fed. R. Crim. P.
11(c)(1)(C). The district court accepted the agreement and
sentenced Hughes according to the agreement. Hughes then
sought a sentence reduction permitted for defendants who have
been "sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a
sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by
the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)
(emphasis added). In Freeman, the justices divided
over the question whether a defendant sentenced under a
binding plea agreement was sentenced "based on a
sentencing range." 564 U.S. at 525, 534. The district
court determined that Justice Sotomayor's concurring
opinion stated the holding in Freeman because she
concurred in the judgment on the narrowest grounds,
Marks, 430 U.S. at 193, and it denied Hughes's
motion based on the reasoning of that concurring opinion. We
agree on both counts. Hughes is ineligible for a sentence
reduction because he was not sentenced "based on a
sentencing range, " 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), that
has since been lowered. We affirm.
2013, a federal grand jury returned an indictment that
charged Erik Hughes in four counts for drug and firearm
offenses. Hughes pleaded guilty to two counts: conspiracy to
possess with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of
methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A)(viii),
846, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C.
§ 922(g)(1). In the plea agreement, Hughes and the
government agreed to a sentence of 180 months of
sentencing hearing, the district court calculated
Hughes's guidelines range and determined that his
sentencing range under the United States Sentencing
Guidelines was 188 to 235 months. The district court then
accepted the plea agreement, which bound the court to impose
the below-guidelines sentence recommended by the parties.
See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C). So the district
court sentenced Hughes to 180 months of imprisonment.
over a year later, Hughes filed a motion to reduce his
sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Section 3582(c)(2)
allows a court to reduce the term of imprisonment of "a
defendant who has been sentenced . . . based on a sentencing
range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing
Commission." Hughes sought a reduction based on
Amendment 782 to the Sentencing Guidelines, which reduced the
offense levels for certain drug offenses by two levels and
applies retroactively. See United States Sentencing
Guidelines Manual § 1B1.10 (Nov. 2015). According to
Hughes, applying the amendment would reduce his guidelines
range to 151 to 188 months.
district court denied Hughes's motion. It determined that
Hughes was ineligible for a reduced sentence. It reasoned,
based on Justice Sotomayor's concurring opinion in
Freeman, that the sentence in Hughes's binding
plea agreement was not "based on" a sentencing
guidelines range as required by section 3582(c)(2).
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
review a district court's decision whether to reduce a
sentence pursuant to [section] 3582(c)(2), based on a
subsequent change in the sentencing guidelines, for abuse of
discretion." United States v. Brown, 332 F.3d
1341, 1343 (11th Cir. 2003). Like all questions of statutory
interpretation, we review the conclusions of the district
court about the scope of its legal authority under section
3582(c)(2) de novo. United States v. Moore,
541 F.3d 1323, 1326 (11th Cir. 2008).
divide our discussion in two parts. First, we explain that
Justice Sotomayor's concurring opinion in
Freeman constitutes the holding of that decision
because it is the "position taken by th[e] [Justice] who
concurred in the judgment on the narrowest grounds."
Marks, 430 U.S. at 193 (quoting Gregg v.
Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 169 n.15 (1976) (opinion of
Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.)). Second, we explain that
the district court correctly denied Hughes's motion for a
sentence reduction because applying the holding of
Freeman, Hughes was not sentenced based on a
sentencing guidelines range, Freeman, 564 U.S. at
538-39 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment).
Justice Sotomayor's Concurring Opinion Stated the ...