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United States v. Sleet

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

August 16, 2019

JAMEEL SLEET, Defendant.


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge.

         Defendant Jameel Sleet has requested safety-valve relief under U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2 and 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f). However, the safety valve requires the defendant to perform an affirmative act to provide information to the government. This is true even if the defendant ultimately has no information that the government does not already possess. A simple "I already told you everything I know," does not suffice.

         I. Background

         Defendant Jameel Sleet pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Sleet admitted the following pursuant to his plea agreement:

On November 14, 2018, Lexington Police Department officers stopped a vehicle and encountered Jameel Sleet, a passenger in the vehicle. An officer conducted a pat down of Sleet and discovered a quantity of fentanyl in Sleet's front pocket. Officers subsequently located three additional baggies of fentanyl, cocaine base, and cocaine in Sleet's underwear. In total, Sleet had 40 grams of fentanyl, 16 grams of cocaine base, and 39 grams of cocaine on his person at the time of his arrest. Sleet knowingly possessed the narcotics and intended to distribute each of the three narcotics to another person. All the above events occurred in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

         The statutory punishment for this offense is imprisonment for not less than five years and not more than 40 years. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). However, Sleet contends that the statutory minimum does not apply because he is eligible for safety-valve relief under U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f). The government contends that he is not eligible for such relief because he has not truthfully provided to the government all information and evidence he has concerning the offense.

         Both the United States Code and the Sentencing Guidelines include safety valve provisions which indicate that the statutory minimum sentence does not apply to defendants who meet certain criteria. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2(a). The provisions differ in one significant respect (i.e., criminal history), but both require that the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence; the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person; and the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others involved in the offense. The final factor required is that:

not later than the time of the sentencing healing, the defendant has truthfully provided to the Government all infoimation and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan, but the fact that the defendant has no relevant or useful other information to provide or that the Government is already aware of the information shall not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied with this requirement.

§ 3553(f)(5); U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2(a)(5).[1]

         The parties agree that Sleet has satisfied the first four requirements. However, they disagree regarding the fifth and final requirement. Specifically, Sleet contends that his "full admission at the time of his guilty plea" is sufficient because he was not convicted of participating in a conspiracy or ongoing criminal enterprise and he "has no other relevant information to provide to the government regarding his offense." The government maintains that Sleet's guilty plea, standing alone, is not enough to satisfy the fifth element of the safety valve.

         II. Discussion

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has recognized some general principles in dealing with requests for relief under the safety valve. First, the defendant bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he is entitled to the safety-valve adjustment. United States v. Adu, 82 F.3d 119, 123-24 (6th Cir. 1996). Second, the safety valve requires a higher degree of disclosure than that required for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1. Id. Under § 3E1.1, the defendant is not required to volunteer, or affirmatively admit, relevant conduct beyond the offense of conviction to obtain a two-level reduction. Id. at 124. The safety valve, on the other hand, requires the defendant to "truthfully provide all information he has concerning the offense of conviction and all relevant conduct." Id. (emphasis in original).

         The plain language of § 5CI.2(a)(5) and § 3553(f)(5) do not indicate the method by which a defendant must provide information to the United States. However, the Sixth Circuit has held that the safety valve "clearly require[s] an affirmative act by the defendant truthfully disclosing all the information he possesses that concerns his offense or related offenses." Id. In part, this is because the safety valve is "intended to benefit only those defendants who truly cooperate." United States v. O'Dell, 247 F.3d 655, 675 (6th Cir. 2001).

         Although the guidelines and statutory language do not explicitly require a proffer session or a debriefing with the government, it is unlikely that a defendant could ever rely solely on his guilty plea to gain safety valve relief. See United States v. Altamirano-Quintero, 511 F.3d 1087, 1095 (10th Cir. 2007) (disclosure requirement was not satisfied by statements contained in plea agreement); United States v. Morales,260 Fed.Appx. 585, 588 (4th Cir. 2008) ("A guilty plea alone is insufficient to entitle a defendant to the adjustment."). Thus, because an affirmative act is required, most courts have assumed that a proffer session or debriefing is necessary. See, e.g., United States v. Wrenn, 66 F.3d 1, 2-3 (1st Cir. 1995) (acceding to government's allegations during plea colloquy is not enough to satisfy safety valve, which "contemplates an affirmative act of cooperation with the government no later than the time of the sentencing healing"); Williams v. United States, Crim. No. F13-CR-0025, 2017 WL 4277284, at *6 (N.D.Ga. Sept. 26, 2017) (suggesting that defendant must seek out debriefing or some way of disclosing the information to the government, even if the information is unhelpful or if it is information the government already knows); Trevino-Vasquez v. United States, Crim. No. 7:09-CR-04-l, 2015 WL 13546109, at *3 (S.D. Tx. Jan. 9, 2015) ...

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