Amendment 782 Relief Available For Money Laundering Charge

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has reversed the denial of an Amendment 782 motion. The defendant was sentenced for federal drug and money laundering charges. The lower court found Amendment 782 inapplicable on the basis that it did not affect the defendant’s money laundering sentencing.

Roberto Torres was sentenced to 262 months for drug charges and 240 months for money laundering. Torres’ total offense level was a level 39.

Torres later sought a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) in light of Amendment 782. The party’s agreed that Amendment 782 lowered Torres’ advisory Guideline range to 210-262 months. Thus, Torres was eligible for a sentence reduction of up to 52 months.

However, the district judge denied Amendment 782 relief. The district judge agreed that he had the authority to reduce Torres’ sentence to 240 months on the drug count, but apparently felt that Torres would have a better shot at winning on appeal if the motion was denied entirely. So that’s what the district judge did.

On appeal, Torres argued that:

“the district court erred in not recognizing that his money-laundering conviction was subject to the same reduction as were the drug-trafficking offenses. He bases his assertion on the language of the guidelines. Section 2S1.1, which the PSR identified and the district court applied, deals with “[l]aundering of [m]onetary [i]nstruments.” It prescribes use of “[t]he offense level for the underlying offense from which the laundered funds were derived, if … the defendant committed the underlying offense.” U.S.S.G. § 2S1.1(a)(1). And that is what the PSR recommended—that Torres’s offense level for money-laundering be identical to the level for drug-trafficking.”

The Fifth Circuit agreed.

“The significant point is that the money-laundering offense level was entirely dependent on the drug-trafficking level. And neither side disputes that Amendment 782, properly applied to Torres’s drug-trafficking offense levels, reduce those levels from 39 to 37. But any reduction or increase in the drug-trafficking level would induce a corresponding change in the money-laundering level; Section 3582(c)(2) refers specifically to sentencing range, not any given offense. Thus, the district court’s stated view that its hands were tied with regard to reducing the money-laundering sentence was error. If a reduction was appropriate for the drug-trafficking offense levels, then it was appropriate for money-laundering as well.”

While Torres did not object to the district court’s error, the Fifth Circuit found that the lower court’s denial of the motion constituted plain error. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district judge’s denial of Torres’ motion and remanded for further proceedings. United States v. Torres, No. 16-50320 (5th Cir. 2017).

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