Monday, March 29, 2010

Fives Reiterate That District Court May Not Impose Sentence Below Statutory Minimum, Absent Substantial Assistance Motion or Safety Valve

United States v. Montes, No. 08-10932 (5th Cir. Mar. 26, 2010) (Reavley, Davis, Stewart)

That's what the court held in United States v. Krumnow, and that's what it holds here:

In United States v. Krumnow, 476 F.3d 294, 295-98 (5th Cir. 2007), we held that district courts could impose a sentence of imprisonment below a statutory minimum only if: (1) the government so moves pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e), asserting the defendant’s substantial assistance to the government; or (2) the defendant meets the “safety valve” criteria set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f). Otherwise, post-Booker sentencing courts lack discretion to depart below relevant statutory minimums. Id. at 297.

Montes does not contend otherwise. Instead, he argues that United States v. James, 468 F.3d 245 (5th Cir. 2007) gave the district court the discretion to depart below the mandatory minimum sentence. In James, this court opined that “[t]here is . . . no statutory provision or jurisprudential holding that would prohibit a court from departing below the section 924(c)(1) minimum if the court felt that such a sentence was appropriate.” Id. at 248. This court’s holding in Krumnow, however, forecloses any interpretation of James’s language that would imbue district courts with discretion to depart below the mandatory minimum absent a substantial assistance motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) or application of the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) safety valve, both of which are not present in the instance case. In Krumnow, this court clarified its ruling in James and expressly held that the language upon which Montes now relies was “simply either subsumed in the analysis for why the § 924(c) sentence may be reduced if the Government requests it or is dictum. Restated, this statement [the one upon which Montes now relies] in James is not its holding.” Krumnow, 476 F.3d at 297-98 (emphasis in original and some citations omitted). Thus, the district court could not depart below the sentences it actually imposed for the section 924(c)convictions.

Montes's sentence, in case you're wondering, was 4,705 months' imprisonment.

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