Whose Applicable Guideline Range Is It Anyway? Examining Whether Nominal Career Offenders Can Receive Sentence Modifications Based on Retroactive Reductions in the Crack Cocaine Guidelines

 

By: Evan R. Kreiner

 

The recent reductions in the guideline range for federal crack cocaine offenses have spurred tens of thousands of motions for sentence modifications under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) by individuals sentenced pursuant to the old, harsher crack cocaine guidelines. This deluge of § 3582(c)(2) motions has forced courts to grapple with difficult eligibility questions for many defendants whose sentences were impacted by the old crack cocaine guidelines. These eligibility questions revolve around the requirement that amendments to the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“Guidelines”) reduce a defendant’s “applicable guideline range” in order to qualify for a retroactive sentence modification. This Note examines a circuit split regarding the eligibility for § 3582(c)(2) sentence modifications of “nominal career offenders”—defendants who were subject to the increased penalties of the Guidelines’ career offender provision, but received sentences within the crack cocaine guideline range because career offender status significantly overstated the seriousness of their criminal history. After examining this complex circuit split, this Note argues that nominal career offenders are not eligible for § 3582(c)(2) sentence modifications because their applicable guideline range is the career offender range, not the crack cocaine range.

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