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United States v. Wright

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

March 7, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL STEVEN WRIGHT, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR BAIL AND TO STAY MITTIMUS PENDING APPEAL

DERRICK K. WATSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Presently before this Court is Wright’s Motion for Bail and to Stay Mittimus Pending Appeal. For the reasons stated below, Wright’s motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

On March 4, 2015, Defendant Michael Steven Wright was charged in a single-count Information with violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(c) for knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute a controlled substance. On March 12, 2015, Wright pled guilty to the Information without a plea agreement.

On February 4, 2016, this Court sentenced Wright to two years imprisonment and three years of supervised release, permitting him to self-surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on March 17, 2016.

Wright now moves to maintain his release on bail and to stay mittimus pending his February 9, 2016 appeal. Because the Government concedes that Wright neither presents a flight risk nor a danger to the community within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b), and because it is clear that there are exceptional reasons why Wright’s detention now would not be appropriate, the Court GRANTS Wright’s motion and directs the parties to notify the Court immediately once resolution of Wright’s appeal is complete.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Bail pending appeal is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b). Because Wright has been found guilty of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), a Controlled Substances Act offense for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed, Section 3143(b)(2) ordinarily mandates his detention pending appeal. However, notwithstanding Section 3143(b)(2), Wright may be ordered released if he meets the conditions of Section 3143(b)(1), and it is clearly shown that there are “exceptional reasons” why his detention now would not be appropriate. 18 U.S.C. § 3145(c).[1]

DISCUSSION

Much here is not contested. Wright is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, determinations that the Court made on March 12, 2015 following Wright’s plea, and on which the Court based its decision to allow Wright to remain on bail pending sentencing. Nothing has changed in that regard since March 2015, nor has the Government so much as argued otherwise.

Nor does the Government quarrel with the notion that Wright’s appeal is not for the purpose of delay. Rather, Wright appeals from this Court’s sentence because of a reasonable belief that this case differs from the analysis of the drug importation statutes undertaken in United States v. Jefferson, 791 F.3d 1013 (9th Cir. 2015), or alternatively, that Jefferson is inconsistent with a prior panel decision in United States v. Hunt, 656 F.3d 906 (9th Cir. 2011).

Nor does the Government quarrel with the notion that Wright’s appeal raises a substantial question of law. Wright argues that the applicable guidelines and his resulting sentence should have been based on the marijuana that even the Government concedes he thought he was transacting, rather than on the methamphetamine that he actually was. If Wright prevails on this claim, the applicable guidelines would have called for a term of imprisonment of less than a year, as compared to the guideline range of 41 to 51 months that the Court found to apply before varying.

At issue is whether there are “exceptional reasons” why Wright’s detention would not be appropriate under 18 U.S.C. § 3145(c). United States v. Garcia, 340 F.3d 1013 (9th Cir. 2003), is the Ninth Circuit’s guiding authority on the exceptional reason requirement. In general, a conviction and sentence for a covered offense entails immediate incarceration, and “[o]nly in truly unusual circumstances will a defendant be allowed to remain on bail pending appeal.” Garcia, 340 F.3d at 1022. Garcia held that “Congress placed broad discretion in a district court to consider all the particular circumstances of a case before it and draw upon its broad experience with mainsprings of human conduct.” Id. at 1018 (internal citation omitted). In so holding, the Ninth Circuit placed no limits on the range of matters the district court may consider. Id. at 1018-1019. Rather, in analyzing exceptional reasons, district courts should examine the totality of the circumstances to determine whether, due to any truly unusual factors, it would be unreasonable to incarcerate a defendant prior to an appellate court’s resolution of his appeal. Id. at 1019.

Here, such unusual circumstances exist. Most unusual is the fact that Wright maintains, and the Government concedes, that Wright believed he was transacting in, and only intended to transact in, marijuana, not methamphetamine. In this circumstance, if Wright was only held responsible for the marijuana he thought he was delivering, and not the methamphetamine that he actually was, the Sentencing Guidelines, and undoubtedly, his actual sentence would have been far ...


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