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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. ERIC ALFORD, also known as E. SMITH also known as DUB also known as E
Case Number: 20-1798
Judge: PER CURIAM
Court: UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
Philadelphia, PA - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with Count 1, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of powder cocaine and 50 grams or more of “crack” cocaine; and Count 2, attempt to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of powder cocaine charges.
In 2011, based on offense conduct in 2008, Alford pleaded guilty to the following
criminal charges of violations of 21 U.S.C. § 846: Count 1, conspiracy to possess with
intent to distribute five kilograms or more of powder cocaine and 50 grams or more of
“crack” cocaine; and Count 2, attempt to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms
or more of powder cocaine. In his plea agreement, Alford stipulated that the weight of
powder cocaine was between five and fifteen kilograms; there was no stipulation about
the quantity of crack. Regarding sentencing, the plea agreement noted that, upon the
Government’s filing of an information under 21 U.S.C. § 851 concerning Alford’s prior
convictions, the applicable minimum term of imprisonment was 20 years. The
Government later filed its § 851 information concerning Alford’s prior felony drug
At sentencing, Alford was classified as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1.
In light of Alford’s prior conviction, he faced a statutory mandatory minimum sentence
of 20 years for each count. His advisory Sentencing Guidelines range was calculated to
be 262 to 327 months of incarceration; the District Court departed downward and
imposed the statutory minimum of 240 months for each count, with the terms to be
served concurrently. Alford did not appeal.3
In 2019, Alford filed a motion for a sentence reduction under § 4041 of the First
Step Act of 2018, which, in conjunction with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, reduced
the penalties for crack offenses by increasing the drug quantities required to trigger the
statutory sentencing ranges. Alford argued that Count 1 qualifies as a § 404 “covered
offense” for the modified penalties under the Fair Sentencing Act because Count 1
involves an amount of crack for which the statutory minimum penalty has been reduced.
Alford argued that he was entitled to a full resentencing with respect to the 20-year
mandatory minimum sentence that was imposed. The Government argued that Alford
was not eligible for § 404 relief because his sentence was based on the powder cocaine
quantity, and, even assuming Alford’s § 404 eligibility, no discretionary relief was
warranted. The District Court agreed and denied Alford’s motion, holding that Count 1
was not a “covered offense” because the crack did not increase Alford’s cocaine-based
statutory and Guideline sentencing range calculations, and that Count 2 was not a
“covered offense” because it involved only powder cocaine. The District Court further
stated that, to the extent that Count 1 technically would qualify as a “covered offense,”
the court would not exercise its discretion to reduce Alford’s sentence on Count 1,
stating, “To reiterate, Alford was sentenced to the statutory mandatory minimum term of
1 Alford initially cited § 401 of the Act, but he later clarified that his request concerned
§ 404, not § 401. The District Court’s analysis is based on § 404. As Alford now
confines his arguments to relief under § 404, we will not further discuss § 401.4
imprisonment he faced based solely on either of his powder cocaine convictions.”
(District Court Mem. Op. at 3.)
Alford appeals. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We exercise
plenary review over a district court’s statutory interpretation regarding § 404 eligibility; if
eligibility exists, we review a district court’s denial of relief for an abuse of discretion.
See United States v. Jackson, 964 F.3d 197, 201 (3d Cir. 2020).
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the mandatory minimum penalty for
crack offenses like Alford’s (involving 50 grams of crack, with a qualifying prior
conviction) from 20 years to 10 years; the triggering amount for the 20-year minimum,
with a prior conviction, increased from 50 grams of crack to 280 grams of crack. See
21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) and (B)(iii) (2010). It was not retroactive but applied to
defendants sentenced after August 3, 2010. See Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260,
282 (2012). It did not, however, change the sentencing provisions for offenses involving
powder cocaine. In 2018, the First Step Act made certain provisions of the Fair
Sentencing Act retroactive, including its reduction of sentences for crack offenses, for
“covered offenses” committed before August 3, 2010. See First Step Act of 2018, § 404,
Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194, 5222; see also Jackson, 964 F.3d at 200.
Alford argues that the statute of conviction determines § 404 eligibility for a
“covered offense,” and because Count 1 of his conviction includes a § 841(b) crack
offense with a reduced penalty, he is eligible. We recently recognized this point in 5
Jackson. See Jackson, 964 F.3d at 202 (holding that § 404 eligibility turns on a
defendant’s statute of conviction, rather than conduct). However, the convictions in
Jackson involved only crack, unlike the dual-object conspiracy conviction at issue here.
In any event, we recognized that eligibility for relief does not confer an entitlement to
relief. See id. at 201 (“A district court may reduce a sentence but is not required to do
so.”) (citations omitted). Assuming that Alford was technically eligible under § 404, the
District Court declined to reduce Alford’s sentence because he was sentenced to the
applicable statutory mandatory minimum for either of his powder cocaine convictions.
That is, the District Court has determined that Alford’s sentence would remain the same
if it were to reach the discretionary question whether, and how large, a reduction should
issue for the crack offense. Alford does not argue with the District Court’s finding that
Count 2 is not a § 404 “covered offense” because it involved only powder cocaine; that
sentence remains at 240 months.2
We will not disturb the District Court’s denial of
Alford’s motion for a reduction of sentence.
Outcome: Accordingly, we will affirm the District Court’s judgment.