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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spears v. United States: Kimbrough Means What it Says

Spears was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute at least 50 grams of cocaine base and at least 500 grams of powder cocaine. At sentencing, the district court determined that the drug quantities attributable to Spears yielded an offense level of 38, that his criminal history justified placing him in the Guidelines’ criminal history category IV, and that the resulting advisory Guidelines sentencing range was 324 to 405 months’ imprisonment. The District Court was of the view that the Guidelines’ 100:1 ratio between powder cocaine and crack cocaine quantities yielded an excessive sentence in light of the sentencing factors outlined in 18 U. S. C. §3553(a), so the District Court recalculated Spears’ offense level based on a 20:1 crack-to-powder ratio. That yielded an offense level of 34 and a sentencing range of 210 to 262 months’ imprisonment. The District Court sentenced Spears to 240 months in prison, the statutory mandatory minimum. The sentence was reversed on appeal pre-Kimbrough, then GVR’d by the Supreme Court post-Kimbrough. On remand, the Eighth Circuit again reversed Spears’ sentence and remanded for resentencing. concluding, again, that the district court "may not categorically reject the ratio set forth by the Guidelines,"and replace the 100:1 quantity ratio inherent in the advisory Guidelines range with a 20:1 quantity ratio. The Supreme Court reversed in a per curiam decision "[b]ecause the Eighth Circuit’s decision on remand conflicts with our decision in Kimbrough." The Court "clarif[ied] that district courts are entitled to reject and vary categorically from the crack-cocaine Guidelines based on a policy disagreement with those Guidelines."