Monday, February 02, 2015

Judge May Make Sentencing Findings Re: Drug Quantity So Long as Statutory Range Not Affected

U.S. v. Cassius, 2015 WL 327824 (1/27/15) (CO) (slip opinion here): The issue before the court was whether Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013), allows a district court to enhance an accused’s Sentencing Guidelines range for a 21 U.S.C. § 841 conviction based on a judicial drug quantity finding greater than what the jury found at trial. The jury found that Cassius intended to distribute only 21 grams of crack but the district court decided afterwards that he was responsible for 450 grams. The panel held that, so long as the sentencing court does not use its own drug quantity finding to alter the defendant’s statutory sentencing range, such an enhancement is entirely consistent with Alleyne. (It didn’t help that Cassius had a prior drug trafficking conviction which raised the statutory maximum to 30 years.) Nothing in the record proved that the trial court altered Cassius’s statutory sentencing range in any way, rather the court used its larger drug quantity finding "solely as a sentencing factor to help determine [Cassius's] sentence within the prescribed statutory range." (Apparently, the jury's decision didn't help the court enough.) Two points to consider: first, the panel commented that Cassius did not challenge the method used by the sentencing court to find him responsible for 450 grams. Second, the panel noted its ruling contradicts Justice Scalia’s dissent from the denial of certiorari in United States v. Jones, 135 S.Ct. 8, 8-9 (2014). There, the justice wrote that even if a judge’s factual finding does not alter the proper statutory range, the finding is impermissible if the final sentence would be substantively unreasonable in absence of the finding.