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United States v. Sulfridge

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

September 10, 2019



          Hanly A. Ingram United States Magistrate Judge

         The Court, on referral, considers reported supervised release violations by Defendant Harrison B. Sulfridge. See D.E. 1290 at 2. District Judge Van Tatenhove entered a judgment against Defendant on May 29, 2014, following a guilty plea to conspiracy to manufacture fifty grams or more of a methamphetamine mixture, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. D.E. 635. Defendant was originally sentenced to fifty-seven months of imprisonment and a four-year term of supervised release. Id. at 2-3. On August 28, 2015, District Judge Van Tatenhove reduced Defendant's sentence to forty-six months of imprisonment pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). D.E. 979.

         Defendant was released from custody and began his four-year term of supervised release on October 21, 2016. On February 12, 2019, District Judge Van Tatenhove approved a form Prob 12B, Request for Modifying the Conditions or Term of Supervision with Consent of the Offender, adding a condition of mental health counseling at the discretion of the probation officer. The modification was requested by the United States Probation Office (“USPO”) after Defendant's admitted use of methamphetamine.

         On August 1, 2019, the USPO issued the Supervised Release Violation Report (“the Report”) that initiated these proceedings and secured an arrest warrant on August 12, 2019. Defendant was arrested on August 16, 2019. The Report charges Defendant with two violations stemming from a meth positive via laboratory testing of a urine sample he provided on July 18, 2019. Violation #1 alleges that Defendant violated the condition requiring that he refrain from the use and possession of any controlled substance, except as prescribed by a physician. This is a Grade C violation. Violation #2 alleges that Defendant violated the condition requiring that he not commit another federal, state, or local crime based on his criminal history and the possession of methamphetamine, which is a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844(a), Possession of a Controlled Substance, and a Class E felony. This is a Grade B violation.


         The Court conducted an initial appearance pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1 on August 19, 2019. D.E. 1292. During the hearing, Defendant made a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of his right to a preliminary hearing. Id. At that time, the United States made an oral motion for detention; Defendant did not argue for release. Id. Based on the heavy defense burden under 18 U.S.C. § 3143(a), the Court found detention was required. Id.

         At the final hearing on September 5, 2019, Defendant was afforded all rights under Rule 32.1 and 18 U.S.C. § 3583. D.E. 1297. Defendant waived a formal hearing and stipulated to the violations set forth in the Report. Id. The Court found Defendant to be competent to stipulate to the violations and that the stipulation was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made. Id. The Court also found the stipulation to be consistent with the advice of Defendant's counsel. Id.

         Of course, the Court must find “by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant violated a condition of supervised release.” 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3); see also United States v. Cofield, 233 F.3d 405, 406 (6th Cir. 2000) (“In order to revoke supervised release, the sentencing court must find by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant has violated a condition of his supervised release.”). Defendant's stipulation permits the Court to find that he engaged in conduct that is a Grade B violation under the Guidelines. See U.S.S.G. § 7B1.1(a)(2).

         During the sentencing portion of the final hearing, counsel for Defendant called Officer Nicholas Greiwe to testify. On direct examination by the defense, Officer Greiwe testified that he had been supervising Defendant since his release in October 2016. He further testified that Defendant was unable to participate in RDAP during his incarceration due to his literacy issues, as reading and writing are integral to the successful completion of the program. He also testified that Defendant had been compliant with the conditions of his release for twenty-eight months, up until the positive drug screen in February 2019. He testified that he had recommended Defendant for mental health treatment following the positive drug screen in February 2019 because he believed Defendant's drug use stemmed from Defendant's anxiety and depression.

         On cross-examination by the government, Officer Greiwe testified that he had subjected Defendant to regular drug screens throughout his time under supervision. He further testified that, following the positive drug screen in February 2019, Defendant initially denied any drug use, but, upon being confronted by Officer Greiwe after the lab results were received, Defendant admitted his methamphetamine use. Following the positive drug screen in July 2019, Defendant denied the use of methamphetamine and, despite his stipulation at the hearing, had never admitted to the USPO that he had used methamphetamine prior to that drug screen.

         After Officer Greiwe's testimony, the parties presented their recommendations as to the appropriate term of imprisonment and supervised release. The government argued for an eight-month term of incarceration followed by two years of supervised release. Counsel for Defendant argued for a below-Guidelines Range sentence of time served with a two-year term of supervised release to follow.

         The government's argument emphasized the nature and circumstances of the original offense and the relationship to Defendant's present drug use, the need to deter criminal conduct and protect the public, and the breach of the Court's trust. Concerning the nature and circumstances of the original offense, the government noted that it was a methamphetamine offense, that Defendant's role in the conspiracy was to produce the methamphetamine, and that Defendant's present drug of abuse is methamphetamine. The government pointed out the concern that Defendant's drug use would lead him back into the trafficking of methamphetamine, as well as the inherent dangerousness of methamphetamine use. Regarding the need to deter criminal conduct and protect the public, the government indicated that there is a clear nexus between Defendant's use of methamphetamine and his involvement in other criminal conduct. As to the breach of the Court's trust, the government emphasized Defendant's dishonesty in his failure to admit to the methamphetamine use. The government characterized this dishonesty as significant and requiring a significant imprisonment term. The government stated that supervised release would be beneficial to Defendant as he had demonstrated an ability to be compliant with conditions and a desire to better himself. The government also recommended that a condition that Defendant complete inpatient treatment upon his release from custody be imposed.

         Defense counsel's argument emphasized Defendant's history and characteristics, and the necessity of additional training and treatment. As to Defendant's history and characteristics, counsel noted that Defendant's issues with drug abuse did not occur until around the age of thirty-four after Defendant suffered a severe leg injury which required significant repair. Counsel also highlighted Defendant's work history and that he has been a hard worker his entire life. Counsel further indicated that Defendant's present drug abuse was not of the type which negatively affected his responsibilities to his employer or his family. Regarding the need for training and treatment in this case, counsel argued Defendant presently suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and insomnia. Counsel indicated that the underlying causes for Defendant's post-traumatic stress disorder had never been uncovered due to insufficient time thus far to address it. Counsel also argued that Defendant's lack of reading and writing skills were a hinderance to his productivity in society, and that, if he were to increase his skill levels, he would be empowered and hopefully have less anxiety. As to supervised release, defense counsel agreed that two years is a ...

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