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United States v. Hughes

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

February 27, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ERIK LINDSEY HUGHES, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 4:13-cr-00043-HLM-WEJ-1

          Before WILLIAM PRYOR, JORDAN, and BALDOCK, [*] Circuit Judges.

          WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judge:

         This 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 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 imprisonment.

         At the 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.

         Just 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.

         The 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).

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         "We 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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         We 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).

         A. Justice Sotomayor's Concurring Opinion Stated the ...


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