562 F.3d 35 (1st Cir. 2009), 08-1203, United States v. Poland

Docket Nº:08-1203.
Citation:562 F.3d 35
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Jonathan POLAND, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:April 02, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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562 F.3d 35 (1st Cir. 2009)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Jonathan POLAND, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 08-1203.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

April 2, 2009

Heard Feb. 2, 2009.

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Judith H. Mizner, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender's Office, for appellant.

Renée M. Bunker, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Paula D. Silsby, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before LYNCH, Chief Judge, TORRUELLA and BOUDIN, Circuit Judges.

BOUDIN, Circuit Judge.

The issue the parties have framed on this appeal is whether, where the district court adjusts a prior sentence to account for post-sentence cooperation by the defendant, the adjustment may reflect factors other than that cooperation. We sustain the district court's disposition of this case but on a narrower ground, deferring until necessary the larger issue-which may arise only rarely and implicates a difficult and delicate issue of statutory construction.

The defendant, Jonathan Poland, was eighteen years and three months old when he and his seventeen-year old cousin (who was just shy of his eighteenth birthday) made and detonated two pipe bombs during the Spring of 2004. Poland was indicted and convicted of unlawfully possessing an unregistered destructive device, 26 U.S.C. § § 5861(d), 5841, 5845(f), 5871 (2006), and use of an explosive to maliciously damage or destroy property used in interstate commerce, 18 U.S.C. § 844(i) (2006).

The explosion caused little damage but was close to a truck stop office and fuel of various kinds and so was no minor prank. Poland was sentenced to 63 months imprisonment, the three months over and above the mandatory minimum sentence of 60 months being added because he committed perjury during a suppression hearing. Poland appealed, but later withdrew the appeal and cooperated with the government.

The cooperation led to successful government proceedings against Poland's cousin but, the matter having begun with a juvenile charge, the cousin received a sentence of only three months. After Poland cooperated, the government moved to reduce Poland's sentence to 48 months. Fed.R.Crim.P. 35(b)(1). Poland sought a sentence below 48 months, arguing that all of the ordinary statutory factors could be considered afresh, see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), and stressing the much longer sentence he received compared to his cousin.

At a hearing on the motion, the district judge asked the parties to address the impact of new language in Rule 35(b). Under precedents construing former versions, sentencing courts may consider only the extent of the cooperation given in calculating the reduced sentence. The district court noted that both the rule's new language and an advisory committee note suggested that on re-sentencing any of the factors identified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) could now be considered. The pertinent language of the respective changes appears below.

In the end, the district court held that to so read the new rule would work a substantive change and violate the Rules Enabling

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Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2072(a). United States v. Poland, 533 F.Supp.2d 199, 210 (D.Me.2008). To avoid this outcome, the district court followed precedent under the old rule and held that " the new Rule 35(b)... limit[s] the judge, as before the amendment, to consider only substantial assistance factors in support of the amount of a reduction, notwithstanding the amendment and the Advisory Committee Note." Id. at 211.

The government's recommendation did not bind the district court, which concluded that a reduction to 40 months properly accounted for the cooperation provided by Poland. However, the court said that were it free to consider factors other than cooperation-in particular " the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct," 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6)-it would reduce Poland's sentence to 30 months. Id. at 213-14.

Poland now appeals, arguing that under the current Rule 35(b), the judge was free once the motion was made to consider factors other than cooperation in reducing the sentence. We have jurisdiction over the appeal, 28 U.S.C. § 1291; United States v. McAndrews, 12 F.3d 273, 277-78 (1st Cir.1993); and, as the issue is whether the district court misinterpreted governing law, review is de novo and our authority to provide it is clear despite a circuit split that might matter if the issue were not purely legal.1

The merits of the legal issue, to which we now turn, require a precise understanding of how Rule 35(b) evolved. Before the sentencing guidelines, Rule 35(b) permitted a sentencing judge to reduce a sentence, more or less without condition, within 120 days of the sentence or disposition of any appeal. This open ended approach was substantially altered by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Pub.L. No. 98-473, Title II, 98 Stat. 1987 (" the Reform Act" ), which adopted a framework for sentencing guidelines that aimed at restricting the discretion of judges in initial sentencing.

Consonantly, the Reform Act limited the judge's authority to alter a final sentence, confining it to three categories, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), of which only one directly concerns us. It reads:

The court may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed except that-

(1) in any case-


(B) the court may modify an imposed term of imprisonment to the extent otherwise expressly permitted by statute or by Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure....

The Reform Act also rewrote Rule 35(b) to provide:

The court, on motion of the Government, may within one year after the imposition of a sentence, lower a sentence to reflect a defendant's subsequent, substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense, in accordance with the guidelines and policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission....

Reform Act of 1984, § 212(b)(emphasis added).

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Before the Reform Act became effective in 1987, Congress again added provisions to both 18 U.S.C. and to Rule 35, which furnished the district court authority, in both initial sentencing and re-sentencing, to impose sentences below prescribed statutory minimums based on a government substantial assistance motion, Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Pub.L. No. 99-570, Title I, § § 1007, 1009, 100 Stat. 3207-08 (1986); but...

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