United States v. Andrews

Citation480 F.Supp.3d 669
Decision Date19 August 2020
Docket NumberCRIMINAL ACTION NO. 05-280-02
Parties UNITED STATES of America, v. Eric ANDREWS.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)

Susan L. DiGiacomo, Ludwigs Corner PC, Chester Springs, PA, Joseph Whitehead, Jr., U.S. Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, PA, for United States of America.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

Table of Contents
I. INTRODUCTION ...––––
II. BACKGROUND ...––––
III. LEGAL STANDARD ...––––
IV. DISCUSSION ...––––
A. The Court's Authority to Reduce a Sentence ...––––
1. Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons...––––
2. Reasons Other Than Illness, Old Age, and Family Circumstances...––––
a. Length of the Sentence...––––
b. Amendment to § 924(c)...––––
B. Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons in this Case ...––––
V. CONCLUSION ...––––
Prologue

In 2018, Congress enacted the First Step Act ("FSA"). The FSA provided for, among other things, the reduction of federal sentences, if the federal prisoner could demonstrate extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting such relief. Circa March 2020, the United States (as well as most of the world) recognized the presence of a novel coronavirus, which could endanger the lives of millions of people. Particularly at risk, because of the inherent conditions of incarceration, were persons kept in custodial environments.

The confluence of these twin events, the passage of the FSA and the appearance of the coronavirus, created a perfect storm, generating countless petitions for compassionate release giving birth to district court decisions in the hundreds, granting and denying relief.

Without guidance from Congress and the Sentencing Commission (which lacks a quorum to act) concerning the meaning of the terms extraordinary and compelling, and in the fog of war created by incomplete and at times conflicting health information, courts have struggled to find their way to a principled disposition of compassionate release petitions.

With this experience in mind, the Court will proceed to consider the instant motion for compassionate release by first defining the scope of its own authority to reduce a lawfully imposed sentence and, upon locating such authority, determining whether the facts and circumstances alleged here rise to the level of extraordinary and compelling.

I. INTRODUCTION

Eric Andrews is serving a 312-year sentence for thirteen armed robberies he committed when he was nineteen years old. The FSA amended the compassionate release provision in the United States Code to allow defendants to move the Court for a reduction of a sentence for extraordinary and compelling reasons. Pub. L. No. 115-391, § 603(b), 132 Stat. 5194, 5239 (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) ). Under this authority, Andrews moves the Court for a reduction of his sentence.

II. BACKGROUND

In 2005, Andrews, at nineteen years of age, was charged with committing thirteen robberies, conspiring to commit robberies, and brandishing a firearm during the completed crimes. Andrews was indicted along with three others, and of the three, two pleaded guilty, and one, along with Andrews, proceeded to trial, where the two were found guilty.

Andrews was sentenced to 312 years’ imprisonment: the conspiracy and substantive robbery counts account for fifty-seven months of his sentence, while the other 3,684 months of his sentence were imposed on account of thirteen counts of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). These firearm counts each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years. But at the time Andrews was sentenced, successive § 924(c) counts in the first prosecution each carried a mandatory minimum of twenty-five years. Thus, with twelve § 924(c) counts carrying mandatory twenty-five-year sentences, which must run consecutively, this disproportionate sentence was mandated.

The FSA amended § 924(c) to provide that the twenty-five-year mandatory minimum only applies to a "violation of this subsection that occurs after a prior conviction under this subsection has become final." § 403(a), 132 Stat. 5194, 5221–22 (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(C) ). While the amendment was titled a "clarification," the provision was explicitly not retroactive, unlike other portions of the FSA. § 403(b), 132 Stat. 5194, 5222. Even if the amendment applied retroactively or Andrews were sentenced today under the amended provision, he would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of ninety-one years for the thirteen § 924(c) counts.

Andrews argues that he does not seek retroactive application of the § 924(c) amendment, but that he instead moves the Court for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1). He asks for a reduction of his sentence to time served, after having served fourteen years. In arguing that extraordinary and compelling reasons exist, Andrews's motion focused on the length of the sentence and the FSA's reduction of § 924(c) successive mandatory minimums on a first conviction. And while not expressly arguing that they are extraordinary and compelling reasons, it also pointed to his rehabilitation in prison and his young age at the time of the offenses as factors under § 3553(a). In his reply to the government's response, he more directly argued that all four of these reasons are extraordinary and compelling when considered together, as part of a holistic review, and he added that the decision to charge thirteen § 924(c) counts as a trial penalty is also an extraordinary and compelling reason. In the briefing—both by Andrews and by the government—the question of whether there are extraordinary and compelling circumstances here was largely eclipsed by the issue of the Court's power to grant compassionate release.

At the oral argument—where the Court pressed the parties about whether there are extraordinary and compelling reasons here—Andrews again asserted the holistic approach. While pointing to all five reasons listed above, Andrews especially focused on the length of the sentence and the government's decision to charge thirteen consecutive § 924(c) counts. He argued, "if this [United States Attorney's] Office used the prosecutorial judgment it used back then against a 19-year-old and made him eat 13 consecutive mandatory seven-year sentences, this Court would have the authority [to grant compassionate release one day after the sentence was imposed]." Oral Arg. Tr. 45:2–45:5, ECF No. 245.

By way of a letter, after the briefing and argument, Andrews also raised his susceptibility to the COVID-19 pandemic, due to hypertension

requiring medication, as an additional extraordinary and compelling reason for granting his motion.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

In interpreting a statute, the Court begins "with the statutory text," and "[u]nless otherwise defined, statutory terms are generally interpreted in accordance with their ordinary meaning." BP Am. Prod. Co. v. Burton, 549 U.S. 84, 91, 127 S.Ct. 638, 166 L.Ed.2d 494 (2006) (citations omitted). The Court considers "the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole," assumes "that every word in a statute has meaning," and avoids "interpreting one part of a statute in a manner that renders another part superfluous." Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania v. Se. Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 539 F.3d 199, 210 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The Court "also consider[s] the overall object and policy of the statute, and avoid[s] constructions that produce odd or absurd results or that are inconsistent with common sense." Id. (internal quotations and quotation marks omitted).

IV. DISCUSSION

To decide Andrews's compassionate release motion, the Court must first determine its authority to reduce a lawfully imposed sentence and, once it locates the scope of the authority, it must evaluate whether Andrews's case presents extraordinary and compelling reasons for granting the motion.

A. The Court's Authority to Reduce a Sentence

The concept of compassionate release is not a novel one. It was created with the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Pub. L. 98-473, § 3582(c)(1)(A), 98 Stat. 1837, 1998–99, which also abolished parole and created the current determinate sentencing regime. Under the compassionate release provision as originally written in 1984, a motion for compassionate release could only be brought by the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). § 3582(c)(1)(A), 98 Stat. 1837, 1998–99. In December of 2018 Congress enacted the FSA. And the FSA—for the purpose of increasing the use and transparency of compassionate release, as the relevant section is titled—amended the compassionate release provision to allow a motion brought directly by the defendant. § 603(b), 132 Stat. 5194, 5239 (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) ). Thus, while the BOP was the gatekeeper to compassionate release under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the FSA divested the BOP of this sole gatekeeper role.

Under the compassionate release provision, as amended, the Court may, on the defendant's motion, "reduce the term of imprisonment" of the defendant "after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a)" if (1) the administrative exhaustion requirement is met, (2) "extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction," and (3) "such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1). Because there is no dispute that the exhaustion requirement is met here, the Court first turns to what the Court may properly consider as extraordinary and compelling reasons.

1. Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons

Congress did not define extraordinary and compelling reasons, except by providing that rehabilitation alone is not enough. 28 U.S.C. § 994(t). Instead, Congress directed the Sentencing Commission ("Commission") to "describe what should be considered extraordinary and compelling reasons for sentence reduction" under compassionate release. Id.

Following Congress's direction, the Commission...

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