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Supreme Court Reverses Denial of First Step Act Relief

Concepcion v. United States Docket: 20-1650, Opinion Date: June 27, 2022. Concepcion pleaded guilty to distributing crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), and was sentenced, in 2009, to 228 months in prison. The career offender provision and other enhancements increased Concepcion’s Sentencing Guidelines range from 57-71 months to 262-327 months. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act corrected a disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing; it did not apply retroactively. A 2011 Sentencing Guidelines amendment lowered the sentencing range for crack-cocaine offenses, retroactively for some defendants. The 2018 First Step Act authorized district courts to “impose a reduced sentence” on defendants serving sentences for certain crack-cocaine offenses “as if" the Fair Sentencing Act "were in effect" when the offense was committed. Because Concepcion was sentenced as a career offender, he was not eligible for relief under the 2011 amendment. Concepcion sought a sentence reduction under the First Step Act, arguing that he would no longer be considered a career offender because one of his prior convictions had been vacated and his remaining convictions would not constitute crimes of violence. Concepcion pointed to post-sentencing evidence of rehabilitation. The First Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion. The Supreme Court reversed. The First Step Act allows courts to consider intervening changes of law or fact in exercising their discretion to reduce a sentence. District courts’ discretion is bounded only when Congress or the Constitution expressly limits the type of information the court may consider. A court may not consider a First Step Act motion only if the movant’s sentence was already reduced under the Fair Sentencing Act or if the court considered and rejected a First Step Act motion. The “as if ” clause does not impose any limit on the information a court can consider in exercising its discretion. In resentencing proceedings, courts may consider nonretroactive Guidelines changes, rehabilitation, and unrelated Guidelines changes.

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