Big Win on a First Step Act case - pro-se defendant!!!
When the First Step Act was passed in 2018, Smith sent a letter to the district court (Eastern District of Kentucky) asking that counsel be appointed for the filing of an FSA motion. (It should be noted that the Eastern District of Kentucky remains one of the only districts in the country devoid of a Federal Defenders office.) Instead of appointing counsel, the district court (1) construed the letter request as an FSA motion, (2) found that the FSA did indeed apply, and (3) decided that Smith should not receive a reduced sentence. In denying the motion, the court noted that Smith's current Guidelines range would be 77-96 months.
Smith appealed (still acting pro-se), arguing that the failure to reduce the sentence was improper. The Sixth Circuit first noted that the decision to not reduce the sentence, under these circumstances, amounted to an upward variance from the Guidelines range. Leaning on the Court's rationale in United States v. Bistline, 665 F.3d 758 (6th Cir. 2012), the Court found that the sentence of 240 constituted a "major" variance from the Guidelines range, and thus should have been supported by "significant justification" on the record. The district court,in the Sixth Circuit's opinion, provided no such justification. Opinion
However, the Court even went further. Opining on the passage of the First Step Act itself, the Court held that "the fact that Congress was the actor that reduced Smith’s guideline range through the passage of the First Step Act, rather than the Sentencing Commission, if anything increases rather than decreases the need to justify disagreement with the guideline." The court found that everything the district court did discuss in denying a reduction was adequately considered in the current Guidelines range. Thus, resentencing was required.