First Step Act Ruling

The Fifth Circuit determined that the First Step Act, in which Congress permitted a sentencing court to “impose a reduced sentence as if . . . the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . . [was] in effect at the time the covered offense was committed” does not allow plenary resentencing.

Michael Dewayne Hegwood had been charged with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute 5 grams or more of cocaine base. He pleaded guilty and admitted in his factual résumé that he sold approximately 8 grams of cocaine base to a cooperating witness. The PSR found he was responsible for a total of 9.32 grams of cocaine base.

Using the 2008 Guidelines, the PSR calculated a Base Offense Level of 24. The probation officer recommended a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. Relevant to Hegwood’s appeal, the PSR also recommended that Hegwood be classified a “career offender.” The career-offender offense level was 34, which translated to a Total Offense Level of 31 after deducting acceptance of responsibility.

Hegwood claims that the career-offender enhancement was based upon a 2002 conviction for delivery of a controlled substance and a 2007 conviction for delivery of a controlled substance which resulted in three years in prison. He was sentenced to 200 months in prison.

Hegwood filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, requesting retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The district court construed the motion as a motion to reduce sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) and denied it. Hegwood filed again, and the district court denied his petition again. Hegwood thereafter filed for the appointment of counsel and invoked the First Step Act of 2018, which allowed the court to reduce his sentence by making the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. The effect would be to change his Guidelines to 151–188 months, less than his original 200-month sentence. He also argued that United States v. Tanksley, 848 F.3d 347, 352 (5th Cir.), opinion supplemented, 854 F.3d 284 (5th Cir. 2017), rendered the career-offender enhancement inapplicable. His Guideline range would be reduced to 77–96 months without that enhancement.

The district court left the career-offender enhancement in place, holding that it was “going to resentence [Hegwood] on the congressional change and that alone.” It then sentenced Hegwood to 153 months in prison.

Hegwood argued that the district court erred by applying the career-offender enhancement. He asserted that the First Step Act contemplated an entirely new sentencing hearing, not just the modification of an existing sentence. The Fifth Circuit held that the First Step Act does not provide for plenary resentencing, but only limited discretion to consider reducing a sentence previously imposed.

United States v. Michael Dewayne Hegwood, No. 19-40117