United States v. Blewett, Nos. 12–5226

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtSUTTON
Citation746 F.3d 647
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Cornelius Demorris BLEWETT (12–5226) and Jarreous Jamone Blewitt (12–5582), Defendants–Appellants.
Decision Date03 December 2013
Docket Number12–5582.,Nos. 12–5226

746 F.3d 647

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Cornelius Demorris BLEWETT (12–5226) and Jarreous Jamone Blewitt (12–5582), Defendants–Appellants.

Nos. 12–5226, 12–5582.

United States Court of Appeals,
Sixth Circuit.

Argued: Oct. 9, 2013.
Decided and Filed: Dec. 3, 2013.


[746 F.3d 648]


ARGUED:Frank W. Heft, Jr., Office of the Federal Public Defender, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellants.
Terry M. Cushing, United States Attorney's Office, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellee. Vincent M. Southerland, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., New York, New York, for Amicus Curiae. ON BRIEF:Frank W. Heft, Jr., Scott T. Wendelsdorf, Laura R. Wyrosdick, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellants. Terry M. Cushing, United States Attorney's Office, Louisville, Kentucky, David M. Lieberman, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. Vincent M. Southerland, Ria Tabacco Mar, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., New York, New York, Candace C. Crouse, Pinales Stachler Young Burrell & Crouse Co., L.P.A., Cincinnati, Ohio, Douglas A. Berman, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Columbus, Ohio, Dennis G. Terez, Jeffrey B. Lazarus, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Cleveland, Ohio, for Amici Curiae.

Before: BATCHELDER, Chief Judge; MERRITT, BOGGS, MOORE, COLE, CLAY, GILMAN, GIBBONS, ROGERS, SUTTON, COOK, McKEAGUE, GRIFFIN, KETHLEDGE, WHITE, STRANCH and DONALD, Circuit Judges.

[746 F.3d 649]



SUTTON, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which BATCHELDER, C.J., BOGGS, GILMAN, GIBBONS, COOK, McKEAGUE, GRIFFIN and KETHLEDGE, JJ., joined, and MOORE, J., joined in the result.
MOORE, J. (pp. 660–69), delivered a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. MERRITT, J. (pp. 669–71), delivered a separate dissenting opinion, in which DONALD J., joined. COLE, J. (pp. 671–75), delivered a separate dissenting opinion. CLAY, J. (pp. 675–85), delivered a separate dissenting opinion, in which DONALD, J., joined. ROGERS, J. (pp. 685–90), delivered a separate dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and STRANCH, JJ., joined, MERRITT, J., joined in part, and COLE, J., joined except for the last paragraph. WHITE, J. (pp. 690–98), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

SUTTON, Circuit Judge.

The Anti–Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established mandatory minimum sentences for possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute it: 5 years for possessing 5 grams, 10 years for possessing 50 grams. 100 Stat. 3207. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 increased the amount of crack cocaine needed to activate the same mandatory minimums. It now takes 28 grams to trigger the 5–year penalty and 280 grams to trigger the 10–year penalty. 124 Stat. 2372. Through these changes, the Fair Sentencing Act significantly reduced, but did not eliminate, a sentencing disparity between offenses involving crack and powder cocaine. What used to be a 100:1 ratio between the amount of powder and crack needed to trigger the mandatory minimums has become an 18:1 ratio.

At issue in this case is whether the changes created by the Act apply to defendants sentenced five years before the new law took effect. Consistent with a 142–year–old congressional presumption against applying reductions in criminal penalties to those already sentenced, 1 U.S.C. § 109, consistent with the views of all nine Justices and all of the litigants in Dorsey v. United States, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2321, 2332, 183 L.Ed.2d 250 (2012), consistent with the decisions of every other court of appeals in the country, and consistent with dozens of our own decisions, we hold that the Act does not retroactively undo final sentences.

I.

In 2005, a federal court convicted cousins Cornelius Blewett and Jarreous Blewitt (the Blewetts) of possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute it. Neither side contests that Cornelius had 19.65 grams and Jarreous 26.92 grams. Under the Anti–Drug Abuse Act, those amounts normally would have produced a 5–year minimum sentence. But because the Blewetts each had a prior felony drug conviction, the Act doubled the minimum. See21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b), 851. The court sentenced each cousin to 10 years, the lowest sentence possible under the law.

After Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act, the Blewetts moved for a sentence reduction. See18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The Blewetts' 19.65 and 26.92 grams of crack cocaine fall short of the 28 grams required for the Fair Sentencing Act's new mandatory minimums to kick in. As a result, the Blewetts claimed that, even though they were sentenced before the Fair Sentencing Act took effect, they should benefit from Congress's reduction of the statutory penalties. The district court denied their request.

The Blewetts appealed. While the appeal was pending, Jarreous's prison sentence

[746 F.3d 650]

(though not his term of supervised release) ended, prompting the government to ask us to dismiss his appeal as moot. Because we no doubt have jurisdiction over one of the defendants in this consolidated appeal, we need not resolve the motion and may proceed to answer the merits question presented by this appeal. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 98, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998); Norton v. Mathews, 427 U.S. 524, 531, 96 S.Ct. 2771, 49 L.Ed.2d 672 (1976).

II.

In our view: (1) the Fair Sentencing Act's new mandatory minimums do not apply to defendants sentenced before it took effect; (2) § 3582(c)(2) does not provide a vehicle for circumventing that interpretation; and (3) the Constitution does not provide a basis for blocking it.

A.

The Fair Sentencing Act. Under the general saving statute, enacted in 1871, a law that reduces statutory penalties for an offense presumptively does not alter penalties incurred before the new law took effect. 1 U.S.C. § 109. A statute may overcome this default rule but only expressly or by clear implication. Dorsey, 132 S.Ct. at 2332. The Fair Sentencing Act nowhere provides that it covers offenders sentenced before it became effective. Nor do the Act's clear implications show a desire to apply the new law to offenders already sentenced. To the contrary, no feature of the Act is backward looking and many are forward looking. Congress, to be sure, disapproved of the old mandatory minimums; that is why it changed them. But if rejection of the old penalty were all it took to make a new penalty retroactive to all individuals previously sentenced, every new penalty would be fully retroactive, shearing the general saving statute of meaning.

Dorsey reinforces this conclusion. Its core holding is that the Fair Sentencing Act applies to all individuals sentenced after its effective date, which of course defeats the Blewetts' claim. The Blewetts were sentenced in 2005, five years before the Act became law.

Dorsey's reasoning points in the same direction. The Court identified six factors that supported this cut-off date, one that made the Act applicable to individuals who had distributed crack cocaine before its effective date but who were sentenced after it. While all six factors favored the Dorsey outcome, the same is not remotely true here.

Factor one. Dorsey began by explaining that Congress may overcome the § 109 default rule by a clear statement or clear implication. Id. at 2331. This factor helped Dorsey: He could point to language in the Fair Sentencing Act suggesting that Congress wanted the new ratios to apply to future sentences. See id. at 2332–33 (discussing § 8 of the Act). But it hurts the Blewetts: They cannot find, indeed they do not even try to find, any similar textual foothold to support their claim that Congress wanted the new ratios to alter final sentences.

Factor two. Under the sentencing guidelines system created by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1986, Dorsey pointed out, a defendant's sentence normally depends on the rules “in effect on the date the defendant is sentenced.” Id. at 2332. This rule helped Dorsey: When he was first sentenced, the new minimums were in effect. But this rule hurts the Blewetts: When they were sentenced, the old minimums were in effect.

Factor three. Dorsey explained that the “language in the Fair Sentencing Act implies

[746 F.3d 651]

that Congress intended to follow the Sentencing Reform Act background principle here.” Id. In other words, Dorsey concluded that both the Fair Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act counsel in favor of applying the relevant sentencing law on the date of initial sentencing. This factor favored Dorsey (who was sentenced after the Act's effective date) but hurts the Blewetts (who were sentenced five years before the Act's effective date).

Factor four. If the new mandatory minimums did not apply to everyone sentenced after the Act's passage, Dorsey cautioned, two offenders who committed the same crime—one say a week before the Act became law, one a week after—could receive “disparate sentences” despite “roughly contemporaneous sentencing, i.e., the same time, the same place, and even the same judge.” Id. at 2333. While this date-of-the-crime consideration favored Dorsey, it means nothing here. Under our holding and the holdings of all courts in the country, everyone sentenced at the same time is treated the same way: The new minimums apply to everybody sentenced after the Act, and the old minimums apply to everybody sentenced before it. In this instance, disparities will arise only if our court picks a different cut-off date and begins applying the new law to old sentences.

Factor five. Congress required the Sentencing Commission to apply the new guidelines (reflecting the new ratios) to all future sentences. Id. at 2332–33. Dorsey thus reasoned that Congress would not have simultaneously insisted on using new guidelines for all future sentences but on using new statutory minimums for some future sentences. Id. at 2334. This factor helped Dorsey but it cuts the other way here. Congress, all agree, did not require...

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155 practice notes
  • United States v. Richardson, Nos. 17-2157/2183
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • January 27, 2020
    ...criminal law, we presume that the new law "does not alter penalties incurred before the new law took effect." United States v. Blewett , 746 F.3d 647, 650 (6th Cir. 2013) (en banc). Indeed, under the general saving statute:The repeal of any statute shall not have the effect to release or ex......
  • Commonwealth v. United States, No. 12–6610.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2014
    ...meaningful relief to the prevailing party, the action is moot, and we must dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.” United States v. Blewett, 746 F.3d 647, 661 (6th Cir.2013) (Moore, J., concurring) (citing Knox v. Serv. Emp. Int'l Union, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2277, 2287, 183 L.Ed.2d 281 (2012......
  • Ohio Organizing Collaborative v. Husted, Case No. 2:15-cv-1802
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • May 24, 2016
    ...that the ‘intent’ in ‘intentional discrimination’ means more than ‘intent as awareness of consequences.’ " United States v. Blewett , 746 F.3d 647, 659 (6th Cir.2013) (quoting Pers. Adm'r of Mass. v. Feeney , 442 U.S. 256, 279, 99 S.Ct. 2282, 60 L.Ed.2d 870 (1979) ). "A violation arises onl......
  • Kitchen v. Whitmer, Case No. 18-11430
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • September 11, 2020
    ...laws while knowing that they have a disparate impact on juveniles states an equal-protection claim. See United States v. Blewett , 746 F.3d 647, 659 (6th Cir. 2013) (en banc) ("A disproportionate effect does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, even if it was foreseen. The Supreme Court......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
155 cases
  • United States v. Richardson, Nos. 17-2157/2183
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • January 27, 2020
    ...criminal law, we presume that the new law "does not alter penalties incurred before the new law took effect." United States v. Blewett , 746 F.3d 647, 650 (6th Cir. 2013) (en banc). Indeed, under the general saving statute:The repeal of any statute shall not have the effect to release or ex......
  • Commonwealth v. United States, No. 12–6610.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2014
    ...meaningful relief to the prevailing party, the action is moot, and we must dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.” United States v. Blewett, 746 F.3d 647, 661 (6th Cir.2013) (Moore, J., concurring) (citing Knox v. Serv. Emp. Int'l Union, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2277, 2287, 183 L.Ed.2d 281 (2012......
  • Ohio Organizing Collaborative v. Husted, Case No. 2:15-cv-1802
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • May 24, 2016
    ...that the ‘intent’ in ‘intentional discrimination’ means more than ‘intent as awareness of consequences.’ " United States v. Blewett , 746 F.3d 647, 659 (6th Cir.2013) (quoting Pers. Adm'r of Mass. v. Feeney , 442 U.S. 256, 279, 99 S.Ct. 2282, 60 L.Ed.2d 870 (1979) ). "A violation arises onl......
  • Kitchen v. Whitmer, Case No. 18-11430
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • September 11, 2020
    ...laws while knowing that they have a disparate impact on juveniles states an equal-protection claim. See United States v. Blewett , 746 F.3d 647, 659 (6th Cir. 2013) (en banc) ("A disproportionate effect does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, even if it was foreseen. The Supreme Court......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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