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Criminal Practice – Two-year reduction no abuse of discretion

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//August 26, 2021

Criminal Practice – Two-year reduction no abuse of discretion

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//August 26, 2021

Where the drug defendant asked that his sentence be reduced by five years but received only a two-year reduction, there was no abuse of discretion because the district court considered his arguments and balanced the nature of his offense, his post-sentencing mitigation evidence and his criminal record, his new guidelines sentencing range and the new statutory mandatory minimum.


After 35 state-court convictions over eight years, Cobey Daron Webb was federally indicted on 12 counts stemming from a drug conspiracy that involved dealing in crack cocaine and intimidating, assaulting and robbing other drug dealers. In 2006, Webb agreed to plead guilty to the overall drug conspiracy and to brandishing and discharging a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. Together these two counts required at least 20 years in prison: 10 years for each count to run consecutively.

As part of his plea agreement, Webb agreed to the 20-year minimum sentence. And as part of that agreement, the government agreed to dismiss the other counts, which carried a mandatory 50 additional years of incarceration.

Fourteen years after his conviction, Webb filed a motion for reduction in sentence under the First Step Act. Webb sought a five-year sentence reduction. The district court gave him a two-year sentence reduction, considering his rehabilitation efforts in prison and family support alongside his serious offense conduct, extensive criminal history, sentencing-guidelines range and mandatory-minimum sentence.


Webb argues that the district court did not adequately explain its decision to reduce his sentence by only two years given the mitigating evidence he presented. The court disagrees.

The explanation the district court gave here was more than sufficient. Webb put on three witnesses that explained Webb had changed in prison and had a family to support him on the outside. Webb also argued that his prison record, his payment of his fine and his work ethic supported reducing his sentence. The district court acknowledged all these arguments.

But a district court must consider these mitigating arguments alongside the aggravating circumstances. And so the district court here turned to Webb’s offense conduct and criminal record to find that a five-year sentence reduction was not warranted. The district court recognized that Webb’s plea agreement “was an awfully good one” that “got [Webb] out from under a lot of time” and that the offense conduct was “serious and [ ] severe and deserve[d] punishment.” Had Webb “been fully prosecuted, [he’d] be in prison pretty much the rest of [his] life.”

Webb argues that the district court erred in relying on Webb’s offense conduct without ordering discovery of the grand jury transcripts. In unspecified ways, Webb suggests that this discovery would have permitted him to confront or contextualize the report’s description of Webb’s criminal actions. But the district court did not have to provide discovery in this nonplenary resentencing before relying on Webb’s offense conduct.

As always, the district court here possessed broad discretion in overseeing discovery. This is particularly so when the requested discovery was of grand jury transcripts, and the district court reviewed those grand jury transcripts in camera and concluded that they did not “create any persuasive reason to have those subject to discovery.”

And it remains unclear how discovery could have helped Webb. Webb expressly indicated at his initial sentencing that he had no objections to the facts in the presentence report. And the only reason he requested the transcripts was to attack those facts. Yet Webb could not now use these transcripts to collaterally attack his offense conduct in the First Step Act sentence-reduction hearing. Webb fails to identify how else the requested discovery could be relevant, so the district court acted properly in denying discovery of the grand jury transcripts and instead relying on the offense conduct recounted in the adopted presentence report.


United States v. Webb (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-150-21, 8 pp.) (Julius N. Richardson, J.) Case No. 19-6491. July 19, 2021. From W.D. Va. (Glen E. Conrad, S.J.) Juval O. Scott and Christine Madeleine Lee for Appellant. Thomas T. Cullen and S. Cagle Juhan for Appellee.

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