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United States v. Harris

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 13, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
AARON HARRIS, Defendant.

          RULING AND ORDER ON FIRST STEP ACT MOTION FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE OR RESENTENCING

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Aaron Harris (“Defendant”) moves for his immediate release or resentencing under Section 404 of the recently-enacted First Step Act. See First Step Act Mot. for Immediate Release or Resentencing, ECF No. 2576 (Sept. 10, 2019) (“Def.'s Mot.”); see also Mem. in Support of Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 2605 (Oct. 11, 2019) (“Def.'s Mem.”). Mr. Harris is currently serving a life sentence.

         The United States of America (the “Government”) has opposed Mr. Harris's motion. Government's Response to Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 2620 (Nov. 25, 2019) (“Gov't Opp.”).

         For the reasons explained below, the Court (1) GRANTS the motion; (2) ORDERS that Mr. Harris's sentence of incarceration be REDUCED to TIME SERVED; and (3) IMPOSES a term of supervised release of FIVE (5) YEARS.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Because of his involvement with and leadership of an extensive and violent drug trafficking enterprise in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the late 1990s, Mr. Harris has been in federal custody since February 22, 2000. Presentence Report, ECF No. 2580-2 (Feb. 22, 2001) (“2001 PSR”).

         On November 7, 2000, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Harris and other alleged members of the drug trafficking enterprise on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, and cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. Second Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 455 (Nov. 7, 2000).

         On December 4, 2000, after an almost three-week trial before the Honorable Alan H. Nevas of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (this “District”), a jury convicted Mr. Harris of violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841 (b)(1)(A), and 846, Conspiracy to Distribute and Distribution of Heroin, Cocaine, and Cocaine Base (Count One). Jury Verdict Form, ECF No. 2580-9 at 1 (Sept. 20, 2019). The jury assigned to Mr. Harris a quantity of 1000 grams or more of heroin, id. at 2; 5000 grams or more of cocaine, id.; and 50 grams or more of cocaine base, id. at 3.

         On April 5, 2001, Judge Nevas sentenced Mr. Harris to the maximum of life imprisonment and a special assessment of $100. Judgment, ECF No. 649 (Apr. 5, 2001) (text order); see also Judgment, ECF No. 2580-6 (Sept. 20, 2019) (paper judgment).

         On April 16, 2001, Mr. Harris appealed his conviction and sentence. Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 679 (Apr. 16, 2001).

         On March 11, 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (the “Second Circuit”) affirmed the judgment and sentence, but remanded Mr. Harris's case for resentencing consistent with United States v. Crosby, 397 F.3d 103 (2d Cir. 2005). United States v. Jones, No. 01-1240-cr, General Docket at 7-8 (Mar. 11, 2005).

         On May 30, 2007, Judge Nevas held a resentencing hearing, and re-imposed a sentence of life imprisonment and a $100 special assessment. Minute Entry, ECF No. 2199 (May 30, 2007); see also Amended Judgment, ECF No. 2201 (June 11, 2007). At resentencing, Judge Nevas also imposed a five-year term of supervised release and a fine of $25, 000. Amended Judgment at 1. In re-imposing the life sentence, Judge Nevas applied for the first time the murder cross reference to U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1, and he also provided an additional statement of reasons for his sentence:

[B]ased upon the evidence that this court heard at the trial of a codefendent [sic], Quinne Powell, . . . the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that Kevin Guiles was murdered . . . and that the defendant was involved in that murder.
[E]ven if the court did not apply the § 2D1.1(d) (1) cross reference to § 2A1.1 the court would apply § 2D1.1(c) (1) to impose the same sentence of life imprisonment . . . because [Mr. Harris] was found guilty of a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 (a)(1) and 846 and this violation involved more than 1.5 kilograms of cocaine base. . . .
Finally, even if the court incorrectly imposed a sentence of life imprisonment under either the § 2D1.1(d) (1) cross reference or § 2D1.1(c) (1), the court would have imposed a term of life imprisonment as a non-guidelines sentence, after considering all of the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), with a strong emphasis on the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment as required under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2) (A).

         Addendum to Amended Judgment, ECF No. 2201 at 1-3 (June 11, 2007); see also Resentencing Tr., ECF No. 2198 at 103:10-16 (May 30, 2007) (“Finally, the Court would find that even if the Court is incorrect in the guideline sentence which it is about to impose, the Court would have imposed a non-guideline sentence, considering all the factors in [§] 3553(a).”).

         Judge Nevas did not articulate any findings regarding Mr. Harris's current ability to pay the new fine of $25, 000, besides adopting the Government's view of his purported wealth. Cf. Sentencing Tr., ECF No. 809 at 29:5-6 (Apr. 5, 2001) (“The Court imposes no fine, makes a finding that he's unable to pay a fine.”).

         On May 30, 2007, Mr. Harris again appealed his conviction and sentence. Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 2202 (May 30, 2007).

         On December 18, 2008, the Second Circuit again affirmed Mr. Harris's conviction and sentence. Mandate of USCA, ECF No. 2267 (Dec. 18, 2008).

         Over the years, Mr. Harris has pursued various forms of relief, all of which were unsuccessful. Ruling Denying Motion to Reduce Sentence re Crack Cocaine Offense, ECF No. 2399 (June 20, 2013); Order Granting Motion to Withdraw Motion for Reconsideration, ECF No. 2407 (Oct. 18, 2013); Order, ECF No. 2411 (Nov. 1, 2013); Order Denying Motion for Reconsideration, ECF No. 2440 (Oct. 19, 2015); Mandate of USCA, ECF No. 2452 (Sept. 1, 2016); see also Motion to Reduce Sentence - USSC Amendment, ECF No. 2450 (July 21, 2016) (pending before this Court); Motion to Reduce Sentence - USSC Amendment, ECF No. 2461 (May 30, 2017) (same).

         On December 21, 2018, Congress passed, and the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, signed into law, the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (hereafter, the “First Step Act”), which “made retroactive some provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act [of 2010, Pub. L. 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372].” United States v. Bobby Medina, No. 3:05-cr-58 (SRU), 2019 WL 3769598, at *2 (D. Conn. July 17, 2019).

         On September 10, 2019, Mr. Harris moved for his immediate release or resentencing under Section 404 of the First Step Act. Def.'s Mot.

         On September 20, 2019, the U.S. Probation Office (“Probation”) filed a supplemental Pre-Sentencing Report, and took the position that Mr. Harris was not entitled to relief under the First Step Act. First Step Act of 2018 Addendum to the Presentence Report, ECF No. 2580 (Sept. 20, 2019) (“First Step Supp. PSR”); see also 2001 PSR, ECF No. 2580-2 (filed and prepared by Probation for Mr. Harris's original sentencing).

         On October 11, 2019, Mr. Harris filed a memorandum in support of his motion. Def.'s Mem.

         On November 25, 2019, the Government briefly opposed Mr. Harris's motion. Gov't Opp.

         On December 2, 2019, Mr. Harris filed a reply in further support of his motion. Def.'s Reply Mem. in Support of Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 2619 (Nov. 22, 2019) (“Def.'s Reply”).

         On January 13, 2020, the Court held a hearing on the motion. Minute Entry, ECF No. 2637 (Jan. 13, 2020).

         While incarcerated for almost the last twenty years, Mr. Harris has participated in numerous Bureau of Prisons programs and educational courses, and has only accumulated five disciplinary infractions. First Step Act Supp. PSR, Inmate Education Data, ECF No. 2580-11 (Sept. 17, 2019) (“Inmate Education Data”); Compare First Step Act Supp. PSR, Inmate Discipline Data, ECF No. 2580-10 (Sept. 17, 2019) (“Inmate Discipline Data”), with Ex. 9: Inmate Discipline Data, ECF No. 2621-2 (Dec. 2, 2019).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Enacted in 2018, “Section 404 of the First Step Act authorizes retroactive application of Sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act to defendants who were sentenced for crack cocaine offenses committed prior to August 3, 2010.” United States v. Jamel Williams (“J. Williams”), No. 03-CR-795, 2019 WL 3842597, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2019). The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 “reduced [future] statutory penalties for cocaine base[] offenses in order to alleviate the severe sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.” United States v. Sampson, 360 F.Supp.3d 168, 169 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2019) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 220; 124 Stat. 2372 (hereafter “Fair Sentencing Act”).

         “Specifically, section 404 of the First Step Act permits ‘a court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense' to ‘impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372) were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.'” United States v. Lawrence Williams (“L. Williams”), No. 03-CR-1334, 2019 WL 2865226, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 3, 2019) (quoting First Step Act § 404).

         “The First Step Act does not mandate sentence reductions for defendants” who are eligible for relief. United States v. Glore, 371 F.Supp.3d 524, 527 (E.D. Wis. Mar. 6, 2019). Instead, “it leaves to the court's discretion whether to reduce their sentences.” Id.; see also United States v. Rose, 379 F.Supp.3d 223, 233 (S.D.N.Y. May 24, 2019) (“Congress clearly intended relief under § 404 of the First Step Act to be discretionary, as the Act specifically provides that ‘[n]othing in this section shall be construed to require a court to reduce any sentence pursuant to this section.'” (quoting First Step Act, § 404(c))).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The threshold issue is Mr. Harris's eligibility for relief, which requires the Court to determine first whether he was convicted of a “covered offense” under Section 404 of the First Step Act. If Mr. Harris is eligible for relief, the Court then must determine whether its ...


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