United States v. Scarmazzo

Decision Date02 February 2023
Docket Number1:06-cr-000342 DAD
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. LUKE ANTHONY SCARMAZZO, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.

LUKE ANTHONY SCARMAZZO, Defendant.

No. 1:06-cr-000342 DAD

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 2, 2023


ORDER (DOC. NOS. 453, 454, 464, 471, 477, 479, 480, 481, 482)

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the court is defendant Luke Scarmazzo's Motion for Reduction in Sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). (Doc. No. 454.)[1] In the pending motion,

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defendant Scarmazzo primarily argues that “extraordinary and compelling” reasons support his release from confinement. After the pending motion was briefed by the parties, the court held a hearing with respect to defendant's motion on June 30, 2021 at which counsel for both defendant and the government appeared. (Doc. No. 487.)

For the reasons explained below, defendant's motion will be granted.[2]

BACKGROUND

On October 12, 2006, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of California returned an indictment in this action charging defendant Luke Scarmazzo and seven co-defendants in connection with the operation of a purported medical marijuana dispensary, California Healthcare Collective, in Stanislaus County. (Doc. No. 3.)[3] Defendant Scarmazzo, who with co-defendant Ricardo Montes were identified as the owners of California Healthcare Collective, was charged in

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the indictment with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE) from 2004 through 2006 in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848 (Count 1); conspiracy to manufacture distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841 (Count 2); manufacturing 1,000 or more marijuana plants in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (Count 3); four counts of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (Counts 4, 6, 7 and 10); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count 8); manufacturing of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (Count 11); and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (Count 18). (Id.) There was also a criminal forfeiture allegation in the indictment brought pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 853(p). (Id.) On May 15, 2008, on the tenth day of their trial, guilty verdicts were returned by the jury as to defendants Scarmazzo and Montes, who were then remanded into custody. (Doc. Nos. 250, 251.) Specifically, defendant Scarmazzo was found guilty on Counts 1 (engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise); 3 (manufacturing marijuana with a finding of 100 or more marijuana plants involved); and 7 (possession with the intent to distribute marijuana). (Id.) Defendant Scarmazzo was found not guilty by the jury as to the charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime alleged in Count 8. (Id.)[4]

On November 21, 2008, defendant Scarmazzo was sentenced to the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for a term of 262 months on Count 1, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 8485; a 151-month term of imprisonment on Count 3, manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A); and a 151-month term of imprisonment on Count 7, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841, with all terms of imprisonment to run concurrently for a[5]

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total aggregate prison term of 262 months (or 21 years, 10 months). (Doc. Nos. 320, 331 and 336.)

After his motion for a new trial was denied, defendant Scarmazzo appealed from his judgment of conviction and sentence. (Doc. Nos. 316, 329) On January 4, 2011, the Ninth Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence.[6] (Doc. Nos. 406 and 407.) The United States Supreme Court thereafter denied defendant's petition for certiorari. On April 27, 2012, defendant Scarmazzo filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and amended that motion on May 14, 2012. (Doc. Nos. 424, 426.) After the motion was fully briefed (Doc. Nos. 432, 437, 438), it was denied by the previously assigned district judge. (Doc. No. 439.) On September 4, 2013, the Ninth Circuit denied defendant's request for a certificate of appealability with respect to that order. (Doc. No. 448.)

In January 2017, President Barack Obama granted clemency and commuted the 240-month sentence of the co-owner and executive director of the California Healthcare Collective marijuana dispensary, co-defendant Ricardo Montes. However, defendant Scarmazzo's request for clemency was not granted.

Defendant Scarmazzo was 26 years old at the time of his sentencing and has now served approximately 14 years and 8 and a half months of his sentence.[7] He is currently incarcerated at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' (“BOP”) FCI-Yazoo City Medium institution in Mississippi. Find an inmate, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc/ (last visited January 31, 2023). Defendant Scarmazzo is currently scheduled to be released on March 14, 2027. (Id.)

On August 13, 2019, defendant Scarmazzo filed a request for compassionate release with the warden at his institution of confinement at the time. Defendant did not receive a response to this request. On November 18, 2019, he filed the now-pending motion for reduction in sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). (Doc. No 454.) Therein, defendant Scarmazzo argues

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that his sentence should be reconsidered and reduced for the following reasons which he characterizes as “extraordinary and compelling”:

1. He received an unusually long sentence for his criminal conduct;
2. His co-defendant received a sentence commutation in 2017;
3. The federal government no longer prosecutes the conduct for which he was convicted; and
4. Defendant has established a record of his own rehabilitation and poses no danger to the public if release from confinement.

(Doc. No. 454.)

On April 5, 2020, appointed counsel filed a Second Supplemental Brief on behalf of defendant in support of his Motion for Reduction in Sentence. (Doc. No. 464.) The Second Supplemental Brief raised two additional grounds for defendant's compassionate release:

5. COVID-19 had become prevalent in the facility where defendant was detained; and

6. A congressional appropriations rider (“the appropriations rider”) passed in 2014 prohibits defendant's continued confinement by forbidding the federal government from using federal appropriations to incarcerate individuals who were sentenced for conduct that complied with their state's marijuana laws. See United States v. McIntosh, 833 F.3d 1163, 1174 (9th Cir. 2016).

Thereafter, on June 22, 2022, counsel for defendant filed another supplemental brief in which another ground for compassionate release was raised. (Doc. No. 495 at 14.) Specifically, it was asserted at that time that developing difficult family circumstances requiring defendant's presence justified the granting of relief. (Id.)

The government filed its opposition to defendant's motion on May 6, 2020. (Doc. No. 472.) Counsel on behalf of defendant Scarmazzo filed a reply (Doc. No. 477), as well as Third and Fourth Supplemental Briefs (Doc. Nos. 481 and 482), several post-hearing supplemental briefs (Doc. Nos. 489-90, 495, 497, 502), and letters and declarations (Doc. Nos. 471-80, 491.)

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Finally, supplemental briefing by both parties has now been filed at the court's request. (Doc. Nos. 506, 507.)

LEGAL STANDARD

A court generally “may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed.” 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c); see also Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 824 (2010) (“‘[A] judgment of conviction that includes [a sentence of imprisonment] constitutes a final judgment' and may not be modified by a district court except in limited circumstances.”). Those limited circumstances include compassionate release in extraordinary cases. See United States v. Holden, 452 F.Supp.3d 964, 968 (D. Or. 2020). Prior to the enactment of the First Step Act of 2018 (“the FSA”), motions for compassionate release could only be filed by the BOP. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) (2002). Under the FSA, however, imprisoned defendants may now bring their own motions for compassionate release in the district court. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) (2018). In this regard, the FSA specifically provides that a court may:

upon motion of the defendant after the defendant has fully exhausted all administrative rights to appeal a failure of the [BOP] to bring a motion on the defendant's behalf[8] or the lapse of 30 days from the receipt of such a request by the warden of the defendant's facility, whichever is earlier, may reduce the term of imprisonment (and may impose a term of probation or supervised release with or without conditions that does not exceed the unserved portion of the original term of imprisonment), after considering the factors set forth in [18 U.S.C. §] 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if it finds that -
(i) extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction; or
(ii) the defendant is at least 70 years of age, has served at least 30 years in prison, pursuant to a sentence imposed under section 3559(c), for the offense or offenses for which the defendant is currently imprisoned, and a determination has been made by the Director of the [BOP] that the defendant is not a danger
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to the safety of any other person or the community, as provided under section 3142(g); and that such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission[.]

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) and (ii).[9]

The policy statement with respect to compassionate release in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines sets out criteria and circumstances describing “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual (“U.S.S.G.”) § 1B1.13[10]; see...

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