Wade v. United States

Decision Date18 May 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-5771,91-5771
Citation504 U.S. 181,118 L.Ed.2d 524,112 S.Ct. 1840
PartiesHarold Ray WADE, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

After his arrest on, inter alia, federal drug charges, petitioner Wade gave law enforcement officials information that led them to arrest another drug dealer. Subsequently, he pleaded guilty to the charges, and the District Court sentenced him to the 10-year minimum sentence required by 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) and the United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual (USSG). The court refused Wade's request that his sentence be reduced below the minimum to reward him for his substantial assistance to the Government, holding that 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and USSG § 5K1.1 empower the district courts to make such a reduction only if the Government files a motion requesting the departure. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting Wade's arguments that the District Court erred in holding that the absence of a Government motion deprived it of the authority to reduce his sentence and that the lower court was authorized to enquire into the Government's motives for failing to file a motion.

Held:

1. Federal district courts have the authority to review the Government's refusal to file a substantial-assistance motion and to grant a remedy if they find that the refusal was based on an unconstitutional motive. Since the parties assume that the statutory and Guidelines provisions pose identical and equally burdensome obstacles, this Court is not required to decide whether § 5K1.1 "implements" and thereby supersedes § 3553(e) or whether the provisions pose separate obstacles. In both provisions, the condition limiting the court's authority gives the Government a power, not a duty, to file a substantial-assistance motion. Nonetheless, a prosecutor's discretion when exercising that power is subject to constitutional limitations that district courts can enforce. Thus, a defendant would be entitled to relief if the prosecution refused to file a motion for a suspect reason such as the defendant's race or religion. However, neither a claim that a defendant merely provided substantial assistance nor additional but generalized allegations of improper motive will entitle a defendant to a remedy or even to discovery or an evidentiary hearing. A defendant has a right to the latter procedures only if he makes a substantial threshold showing of improper motive. Pp. 184-186 2. Wade has failed to raise a claim of improper motive. He has never alleged or pointed to evidence tending to show that the Government refused to file a motion for suspect reasons. And he argues to no avail that, because the District Court erroneously believed that no impermissible motive charge could state a claim for relief, it thwarted his attempt to show that the Government violated his constitutional rights by withholding the motion arbitrarily or in bad faith. While Wade would be entitled to relief if the prosecutor's refusal to move was not rationally related to any legitimate Government end, the record here shows no support for his claim of frustration, and the claim as presented to the District Court failed to rise to the level warranting judicial enquiry. In response to the court's invitation to state what evidence he would introduce to support his claim, Wade merely explained the extent of his assistance to the Government. This is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for relief, because the Government's decision not to move may have been based simply on its rational assessment of the cost and benefit that would flow from moving. Pp. 186-187.

936 F.2d 169 (CA4 1991), affirmed.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

J. Matthew Martin, Hillsborough, N.C., for petitioner.

Robert A. Long, Jr., Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 3553(e) of Title 18 of the United States Code empowers district courts, "[u]pon motion of the Government," to impose a sentence below the statutory minimum to reflect a defendant's "substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense." Similarly, § 5K1.1 of the United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual (Nov. 1991) (USSG), permits district courts to go below the minimum required under the Guidelines if the Government files a "substantial assistance" motion. This case presents the question whether district courts may subject the Government's refusal to file such a motion to review for constitutional violations. We hold that they may, but that the petitioner has raised no claim to such review.

On October 30, 1989, police searched the house of the petitioner, Harold Ray Wade, Jr., discovered 978 grams of cocaine, two handguns and more than $22,000 in cash, and arrested Wade. In the aftermath of the search, Wade gave law enforcement officials information that led them to arrest another drug dealer. In due course, a federal grand jury indicted Wade for distributing cocaine and possessing cocaine with intent to distribute it, both in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); for conspiring to do these things, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; and for using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). Wade pleaded guilty to all four counts.

The presentence report put the sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines for the drug offenses at 97-121 months, but added that Wade was subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), narrowing the actual range to 120-121 months, see USSG § 5G1.1(c)(2). The report also stated that both Guideline § 2K2.4(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) required a 5-year sentence on the gun count. At the sentencing hearing in the District Court, Wade's lawyer urged the court to impose a sentence below the 10-year minimum for the drug counts to reward Wade for his assistance to the Government. The court responded that the Government had filed no motion as contemplated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and USSG § 5K1.1 for sentencing below the minimum, and ruled that, without such a motion, a court had no power to go beneath the minimum. Wade got a sentence of 180 months in prison.

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Wade argued the District Court was in error to say that the absence of a Government motion deprived it of authority to impose a sentence below 10 years for the drug convictions. Wade lost this argument, 936 F.2d 169, 171 (1991), and failed as well on his back-up claim that the District Court was at least authorized to enquire into the Government's motives for filing no motion, the court saying that any such enquiry would intrude unduly upon a prosecutor's discretion, id., at 172. We granted certiorari, 502 U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 635, 116 L.Ed.2d 653 (1991), and now affirm.

The full text of § 3553(e) is this:

"Limited Authority to Impose a Sentence Below a Statutory Minimum.—Upon motion of the Government, the court shall have the authority to impose a sentence below a level established by statute as minimum sentence so as to reflect a defendant's substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense. Such sentence shall be imposed in accordance with the guidelines and policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to section 994 of title 28, United States Code." 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e).

And this is the relevant portion of § 5K1.1:

"Substantial Assistance to Authorities (Policy Statement)

"Upon motion of the government stating that the defendant has provided substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense, the court may depart from the guidelines." USSG § 5K1.1.

Because Wade violated federal criminal statutes that carry mandatory minimum sentences, this case implicates both 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and USSG § 5K1.1. Wade and the Government apparently assume that where, as here, the minimum under the Guidelines is the same as the statutory minimum and the Government has refused to file any motion at all, the two provisions pose identical and equally burdensome obstacles. See Brief for Petitioner 9, n. 2; Brief for United States 11, n. 2. We are not, therefore, called upon to decide whether § 5K1.1 "implements" and thereby supersedes § 3553(e), see United States v. Ah-Kai, 951 F.2d 490, 493-494 (CA2 1991); United States v. Keene, 933 F.2d 711, 713-714 (CA9 1991), or whether the two provisions pose two separate obstacles, see United States v. Rodriguez-Morales, 958 F.2d 1441, 1443 (CA8 1992).

Wade concedes, as a matter of statutory interpretation,...

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