Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sentence reduction for accepting responsibility does not require more than pleading guilty and truthfully admitting offense conduct

US v. Spaulding, 2017 WL 2978235 (unpublished) (10th Cir. July 12, 2017): Mr. Spaulding pled guilty to distribution of meth and conspiracy to distribute meth. Acting as a courier, he had sold two ounces of meth to an undercover federal agent. He pled guilty and agreed to cooperate. The government joined Mr. Spaulding in requesting a sentencing reduction for acceptance and also promised to move for a departure based on substantial assistance. The government recommended a 77-96 month sentence. The district court imposed a 137-month sentence. It rejected the acceptance reduction because it believed the reduction required more than pleading guilty and saving the government the effort of preparing for trial; rather, the defendant needed to also do something like take steps "to deal with the victims" or combat defendant's drug addiction. It granted the motion for a reduction based on substantial assistance, but rejected the government's recommended sentence without explanation. First, the Tenth Circuit agrees with Mr. Spaulding and the government that the district court erred in its interpretation of USSG § 3E1.1. On the contrary, pleading guilty and truthfully admitting the offense conduct is "significant evidence of acceptance of responsibility," USSG § 3E1.1 cmt. n.3, and absent contrary evidence, is generally sufficient. Additionally, the court committed procedural error when it granted the substantial departure motion without adequately explaining the chosen sentence. Remand for resentencing is granted. However, Mr. Spaulding is denied his request that his case be assigned to a new district judge because he could not point to anything in the record to demonstrate personal bias against him. (I hope that Spaulding is not the defendant's real name since this decision mentions his cooperation.)