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United States v. Scurlark

March 26, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
WILMER LEE SCURLARK, ALSO KNOWN AS BONAY, APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Melloy, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: February 9, 2009

Before LOKEN, Chief Judge, MELLOY and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

Wilmer Scurlark appeals the district court's*fn1 denial of his motion for a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). We affirm.

I.

In 2006, a federal grand jury indicted Scurlark for attempted distribution of crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, and failure to appear. Scurlark and the Government entered into a plea agreement whereby Scurlark agreed to plead guilty to possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. In exchange, the Government agreed to dismiss the indictment's remaining counts, forgo seeking sentencing enhancements, and recommend a forty-percent downward variance. Additionally, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), the parties agreed to a binding sentencing range of 151 to 188 months' imprisonment, agreeing that Scurlark's offense level was 33 and that he had a Category II criminal history. The district court accepted Scurlark's guilty plea and the parties' plea agreement. The court then applied the Government's recommended forty-percent downward variance to the parties' agreed upon sentencing range and sentenced Scurlark to 100 months' imprisonment.

In 2008, Scurlark moved for a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Scurlark argued that the crack cocaine amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines-which retroactively reduced base-offense-level calculations for crack-cocaine offenses-reduced his base offense level to 31, making his recommended sentencing range only 121 to 151 months. See United States v. Starks, 551 F.3d 839, 840 (8th Cir. 2009) (discussing the crack cocaine amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines). Scurlark asked the district court to apply a forty-percent downward variance to that range and reduce his sentence accordingly.

The district court denied Scurlark's motion. It found as a matter of law that it could not reduce Scurlark's sentence under § 3582(c)(2) because Scurlark had been sentenced pursuant to a binding Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement. Scurlark filed a timely notice of appeal.

II.

On appeal, Scurlark argues that the district court erred in finding that, under § 3582(c)(2), Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreements prohibit courts from reducing sentences pursuant to subsequent amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. We review the court's legal conclusion de novo. See United States v. Spotted Elk, 548 F.3d 641, 668 (8th Cir. 2008).

The applicable provision of § 3582(c)(2) provides:

The court may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed except that . . . (2) in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission . . . the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). "The policy statement applicable to sentence reductions based on retroactive amendments by the Sentencing Commission is USSG § 1B1.10." Starks, 551 F.3d at 841. Section 1B1.10 authorizes sentence reductions pursuant to the crack-cocaine amendments. Id.

Despite § 3582(c)(2)'s authorization for district courts to reduce sentences pursuant to the crack cocaine amendments, the Government nevertheless argues that § 3582(c)(2) is inapplicable here because Scurlark's sentence was based on a binding Rule 11(c)(1)(C) ...


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