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United States v. Darden

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 12, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
Carlton Darden, also known as Carlton Darden-Bey Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: September 24, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, MELLOY and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

          STRAS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         After serving more than two decades in prison, Carlton Darden asked the district court[1] to reduce his sentence because the Sentencing Commission had retroactively lowered the Guidelines range applicable to his offense. The court denied his motion, and we affirm.

         I.

         In 1993, Darden was convicted of racketeering activities and conspiracy for his role in a gang. 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), (d). Although the Guidelines establish a base offense level for racketeering-related offenses, courts must apply "the offense level applicable to the underlying racketeering activity" if it is higher. U.S.S.G. § 2E1.1(a). Darden's underlying racketeering activities included the distribution of narcotics and attempted murder, both of which carried a higher offense level than racketeering itself. Of the two possibilities, Darden's drug "activity" produced the highest offense level and resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment.

         Twenty years later, the Sentencing Commission adopted Amendment 782, which retroactively lowered the offense level for Darden's underlying drug activity by two. See generally U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10. Darden moved to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

         The government opposed Darden's motion. In its district-court filings, the government introduced evidence about one of Darden's attempted-murder victims, Rochelle Bartlett, who had been left paralyzed by his attack. The government presented evidence showing that Bartlett died a year after Darden's sentencing and alleged that the attack led to her death. It argued that the district court should deny his request for a reduction and treat his sentence as though it was for murder. Darden did not object to the government's evidence or dispute that Bartlett died from her injuries, but claimed that the government's argument was irrelevant because his sentence was for distributing narcotics, not for attempted murder.

         The district court denied Darden's motion. In its order, the court first calculated Darden's new offense level under Amendment 782, which produced an amended Guidelines range of 360 months to life in prison. In deciding whether to exercise its discretion to reduce Darden's sentence, the court noted that, had Bartlett died before Darden's original sentencing, the "underlying" murder, not narcotics distribution, would have determined his racketeering sentence. Because Amendment 782 only reduced the offense levels for certain drug offenses, not for murder, Darden would have been ineligible for relief under those circumstances.

         The district court also considered Darden's good behavior in prison and his efforts at rehabilitation. But the court gave more weight to "the sentencing objectives, including providing just punishment and protection of the public." And in summarizing the seriousness of Darden's crimes, the court again noted that Bartlett died "as a result of" his attack.

         Darden argues that the district court incorrectly calculated his amended sentencing range, impermissibly considered evidence outside the original record, and inadequately considered his rehabilitation efforts.

         II.

         When evaluating a motion for a reduced sentence based on a retroactive amendment to the Guidelines, there are two steps. The first is to determine whether the individual is eligible for a reduced sentence and, if so, to calculate the amended Guidelines range. Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 826-27 (2010). The second is to set the new sentence, applying "the factors set forth in [18 U.S.C.] § 3553(a)." Id. at 826; see also 18 U.S.C. ยง 3582(c)(2). At this latter step, the court may ...


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