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United States v. Henderson

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

July 15, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
KEITH ROMAN HENDERSON (01)

          HANNA MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RULING

          ROBERT G. JAMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion to Reduce Sentence pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018, filed by Defendant Keith Roman Henderson (“Henderson”). [Doc. No. 272] The Government opposes the motion, arguing Henderson is ineligible for relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will GRANT the motion.

         I.

         Background

         On July 13, 2005, Keith Henderson and his brother, Lionel Henderson, were indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute over 50 grams of cocaine base (“crack”) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and two counts of distribution of more than 50 grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. The government subsequently filed an information of prior conviction against Henderson, asserting he was subject to an enhanced penalty under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1) because of a prior state felony drug conviction. In a superseding indictment, both defendants were charged with an additional count of distribution of more than 50 grams of cocaine base, and Lionel Henderson was charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On April 21, 2006, a jury convicted both defendants of counts one and two, and additionally convicted Keith Henderson of count three. The jury acquitted the defendants of the remaining counts.

         In the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), after considering Henderson's relevant conduct, the probation officer concluded that Henderson was accountable for at least 11.76 kilograms of cocaine base. Of this 11.76 kilograms, 11.34 kilograms were determined by taking into consideration the uncorroborated trial testimony of James Legarde, a DEA confidential informant who testified that from April 2003 until February 2005 (prior to becoming a confidential informant), he purchased two to three ounces of cocaine base from the defendants two to three times per week.[1] Henderson's total offense level was 38, and his criminal history category was III, resulting in a guideline range of imprisonment of 292 to 365 months. Henderson was sentenced to 296 months imprisonment.[2] On March 28, 2017, Henderson's sentence was reduced to 240 imprisonment pursuant to an amendment to the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

         II.

         Applicable Law

         At the time Henderson was sentenced, distribution of 50 grams or more of cocaine base carried a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; however, if the offender had a prior felony drug conviction, his mandatory minimum sentence increased to twenty years. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) (effective November 2, 2002 to March 8, 2006). If an offense involved more than 5 grams of cocaine base, the offender was subject to a mandatory minimum term of five years imprisonment and a maximum term of forty years; however, if the offender had a prior felony drug conviction, his mandatory minimum sentence increased to ten years, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Id. at § 841(b)(1)(B).

         In 2010, after more than two decades of substantial criticism from the Sentencing Commission and others in the law enforcement community that the harsh treatment of crack cocaine offenses was fundamentally unfair when compared to offenses involving powder cocaine, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act. Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260, 268 (2012). Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act increased the drug quantities triggering the mandatory minimum for crack offenses “from 5 grams to 28 grams in respect to the 5-year minimum and from 50 grams to 280 grams in respect to the 10-year minimum. Id. at 269. While the Act did not entirely eliminate the disparity between powder and crack cocaine, it did lower the 100-to-1 crack-to-powder ratio to 18-to-1.[3] Id. The Fair Sentencing Act took effect on August 3, 2010 but applied only to sentences imposed thereafter. Id. at 264.

         In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, which made the revised crack cocaine minimums established by the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. The First Step Act provides in relevant part:

(a) DEFINITION OF COVERED OFFENSE.-In this section, the term “covered offense” means a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . ., that was committed before August 3, 2010.
(b) DEFENDANTS PREVIOUSLY SENTENCED.-A court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the Government, or the court, impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . . were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.
(c) LIMITATIONS.-No court shall entertain a motion made under this section to reduce a sentence if the sentence was previously imposed or previously reduced in accordance with the amendments made by sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . . or if a previous motion made under this section to reduce the sentence was, after the date of enactment of this Act, denied after a complete review of the motion on the merits. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a court to reduce any sentence pursuant to this section.

         FIRST STEP ACT OF 2018, PL 115-391, December 21, 2018, 132 Stat 5194. In this matter, the government contends Henderson did not commit a “covered offense” and ...


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