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Defendant not eligible for resentencing

Where the defendant was sentenced after the Fair Sentencing Act, and there was no suggestion that the district court did not follow U.S. Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit caselaw which held that the statute applied to all post-act sentencings, even where the offense in question predated the act, he was ineligible for resentencing under the First Step Act.


In 2012, Leroy Goodwin was convicted of participating in a drug conspiracy involving powder and crack cocaine and sentenced to 219 months’ imprisonment. He moved for relief under § 404 of the First Step Act, which, for eligible defendants, authorizes a reduced sentence reflecting the amended penalties for crack cocaine offenses previously set by the Fair Sentencing Act. The district court found that Goodwin was eligible for relief. But it denied his motion, ruling that his sentence, already at the statutory minimum, could not be reduced further in a § 404 proceeding.


Goodwin was sentenced in September 2012. That is two years after the Fair Sentencing Act took effect. It also is several months after the Supreme Court made clear in Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260 (2012), that the Fair Sentencing Act would apply to all post-act sentencings, even where – as here – the offense in question predated the act. And by the time of Goodwin’s sentencing, the Fourth Circuit had embraced that holding and applied Dorsey to vacate sentences and remand for resentencing of pre-act offenders under the Fair Sentencing Act’s new penalty provisions.

In short, it was clear at the time of Goodwin’s September 2012 sentencing that he was to be sentenced “in accordance with” the Fair Sentencing Act, subject to that act’s more lenient penalties for crack cocaine offenses. Given that timing, the court will assume, in the absence of some contrary indication, that the district court followed the law. And there is no suggestion here that the district court somehow failed to live up to this legal obligation.

Instead, the 20-year sentence imposed by the district court is entirely consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act’s reforms. As this court has explained, while that act reduced the statutory penalties for the quantity of cocaine base associated with Goodwin’s offense, it left unchanged the now-higher statutory range – starting at a minimum of 20 years in prison – for the five kilograms or more of cocaine powder to which Goodwin pleaded guilty.

The presentence report, in calculating a 20-year minimum sentence, relied exclusively on that cocaine powder quantity, without any reference to cocaine base – likely, as the government suggests, in recognition of the Fair Sentencing Act’s effect. Goodwin’s sentence was not any lower as a result of the Fair Sentencing Act. But that is not because he was incorrectly denied the benefit of that act; it is because the newly lowered penalty range for crack cocaine was subsumed in his case by the higher statutory minimum attached to the cocaine powder aspect of his offense.

Neither the district court nor Goodwin’s presentence report, the court recognizes, expressly addressed the Fair Sentencing Act’s changes to the statutory penalties for the cocaine base object of Goodwin’s conspiracy. But that is simply a reflection of “the reality of multi-drug conspiracies, wherein the statutory sentencing range reflects the highest tier of statutory penalties.”

It also is true, as Goodwin emphasizes on appeal, that Count One of his indictment, which charges him with an offense involving “50 grams or more” of crack cocaine, is keyed to the pre-Fair Sentencing Act penalty structure for crack cocaine, under which 50 grams, and not the present 280 grams, was the dividing line between statutory penalty tiers. But it is not surprising that Goodwin’s indictment, filed before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, does not reflect that act’s amendments.

The question is whether Goodwin’s sentence was “imposed . . . in accordance” with those amendments. And on this record, there is no reason to believe that Goodwin’s sentence was not imposed consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act. Accordingly, the court finds that Goodwin’s sentence “was previously imposed . . . in accordance” with the relevant provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act and that § 404(c) of the First Step Act therefore renders him ineligible for relief.


United States v. Goodwin, Case Nos. 20-7320, 20-7362, June 21, 2022. 4th Cir. (Harris), from DSC at Columbia (Currie). Maya M. Eckstein for Appellant. Finnuala Kelleher Tessier for Appellee. VLW 022-2-148. 13 pp.

VLW 022-2-148

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