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Sentence Reduction Eligibility Not a Right to a Reduced Sentence

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that a defendant who qualifies for a sentence reduction under an ameliorative amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines is not guaranteed a reduced sentence.

In February 2007, Rayne Osborn was convicted after pleading guilty to one count of distributing five grams or more of cocaine base. The sentencing court imposed 9 years of prison to be followed by 4 years of supervised release, which was at the low end of the guideline range of 108 to 135 months' imprisonment.

In May 2008, Osborn sought and obtained a reduction of her sentence based on an ameliorative amendment to the Guidelines, Amendment 706, which made her eligible for a two-level reduction in her offense level.

Osborn, the government, and the probation officer agreed that the amended guideline range was 87 to 108 months. The court declined to reduce Osborn’s sentence to the low end of the amended guideline range because of the nature of the offense — namely, Osborn “engaged in an ongoing series of drug transactions accompanied by, or facilitated by, trafficking in firearms.” The court reduced Osborn’s sentence to 96 months.

In October 2011, Osborn and the government jointly asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for an additional reduction.

Osborn contends the district court erred in denying her relief “based on historical factors used to justify the initial sentence and the [earlier] partial reduction of that sentence.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed Osborn’s sentence for an abuse of discretion, and affirmed the district court.

Once a sentence is imposed, a district court has the authority to modify the sentence “in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission, … after considering the factors set forth in 18 USC §3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.”

Authority, however, means that the court has an option, not an obligation.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that Osborn was eligible for a sentence reduction, but she did not have a right to a sentence reduction based on an ameliorative amendment to the Guidelines.

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