Safety-valve eligibility, mandatory minimum sentences, relevant conduct, and a gun.

Devin Hodgkiss pleaded guilty to distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine in April 2018, see 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense in June 2018, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). The statutory minimum sentence for the drug offense ordinarily is ten years’ imprisonment, see 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) (2018), but Hodgkiss at sentencing sought so-called “safety-valve” relief from the minimum. The relevant statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), allows a district court to impose a sentence without regard to an otherwise applicable statutory minimum penalty if the defendant satisfies certain criteria. One requirement is that the defendant “did not . . . possess a firearm . . . in connection with the offense.” Id. § 3553(f)(2).

The district court concluded that Hodgkiss was ineligible for the limitation on the statutory minimum because his “relevant conduct” under the sentencing guidelines for the April 2018 drug offense included his possession of the firearm in June 2018.

The “safety-valve” limitation on statutory minimums, however, appears in an Act of Congress that is not governed by definitions in the sentencing guidelines.

The meaning of “offense” in § 3553(f)(2) is unambiguously limited to the offense of conviction, and the Commission could not alter it by promulgating commentary to § 5C1.2. In applying § 3553(f)(2), therefore, the question is whether the defendant possessed a firearm in connection with the offense of conviction.

Here, the District Court will likely find that the gun was not part of the offense in April 2018.

Read full opinion here:

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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