Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Substantial Assistance Motion Permits District Court to Sentence Below Mandatory Minimum for 924(c)

United States v. James, No. 06-30405 (5th Cir. Oct. 18, 2006) (per curiam) (Smith, Wiener, Owen)

James pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine (21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846), and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)). His guideline range on the meth count was 151 to 188 months, while the 924(c) count required a statutory mandatory minimum of 60 months. However, the Government filed a substantial assistance motion, which the district court granted. The court sentenced James to a total of 84 months' imprisonment: 24 months on the meth count, to run consecutively to 60 months on the 924(c) count. Although the court had granted the substantial assistance motion, it believed that it was still bound by the 924(c) mandatory minimum.

James appealed, arguing that a substantial assistance motion does in fact give a district court discretion to sentence below a mandatory minimum for a 924(c) violation. The court of appeals agreed, holding for the first time that
18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) applies to the mandatory minimum sentences of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1), and that a Government motion made pursuant to section 3553(e), requesting that the district court depart from the statutory minimums of section 924(c)(1), gives the district court the authority to depart from the section 924(c)(1) mandatory minimums.

Slip op. at 4. The court accordingly vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

(Although this is a per curiam opinion, the slip follows Judge Owen's characteristic style of placing citations to authority in footnotes rather than in the main text.)


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