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Criminal Practice – Sentencing – Plea Agreement – Subsequent Legislation – Compassionate Release Request

Criminal Practice – Sentencing – Plea Agreement – Subsequent Legislation – Compassionate Release Request

If defendant had been sentenced under the First Step Act – passed shortly after defendant was sentenced but expressly not retroactively applicable – his 168-month sentence would have been less than half the sentence he received pursuant to his plea agreement (384 months for two counts of brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence). However, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied defendant’s motion for compassionate release based on its consideration of the carefully negotiated plea agreement and the seriousness of defendant’s robbery spree.

We affirm the denial of defendant’s motion for compassionate release.

Defendant was charged with multiple offenses for a string of armed robberies, which involved pointing guns at clerks and customers, including a mother and her child. If he had been convicted on all counts, his sentence range would have been 1,054 to 1,071 months.

Defendant’s primary attack is that a district court can’t consider a plea bargain when weighing the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors. Although § 3553(a) doesn’t explicitly mention plea agreements, district courts enjoy broad discretion when considering the factors in a compassionate-release motion. A particular fact need not be mentioned specifically in § 3553(a) to be considered in the district court’s sentencing calculus; many case-specific facts fit under the broad umbrella of the § 3553(a) factors. And defendant identifies no authority forbidding courts from weighing plea agreements.

We agree with the district court that (1) considering the plea agreement in this context reflected a “respect for the law” and (2) reducing defendant’s sentence so far below the initial U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range wouldn’t be just punishment for defendant’s crimes.

Even though Congress determined that stacking weapons-brandishing charges led to overly punitive minimum sentences, timing matters. Defendant’s original stacked sentence was properly calculated when imposed.

In any event, the district court’s task in weighing compassionate release was not to assess the correctness of the original sentence it imposed. Rather, its task was to determine whether the § 3553(a) factors counseled against a sentence reduction in light of the new, extraordinary circumstances identified.

The district court considered the relevant factors and concluded that the original sentence remained appropriate. The district court was well within its purview to deny defendant’s motion.


United States v. Bond (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-001-23, 8 pp.) (Albert Diaz, J.) No. 21-7066. Appealed from USDC at Greenville, N.C. (Louise Flanagan, J.) Jorgelina Araneda for appellant; Kristine Fritz, Norman Acker and David Bragdon for appellee. 4th Cir.

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