Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinions from Aug. 15

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

United States v. Gladney

In 2007, William Gladney was convicted of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine and possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime. 

Gladney’s crimes all occurred at the Alpine Rose Motel in Denver. Although the motel was a “hub of drug activity for years,” activity increased in 2004 after Lee Arther Thompson and Alvin Hutchinson moved in. A supplier and a dealer, the two men acted as authority figures, directing the drug trade at the motel.

Residents of the Alpine Rose were selected by Thompson and Hutchinson and performed a variety of roles in the drug trade. Gladney was one of the dealers who lived at the motel. 

Marlo Johnson went to purchase drugs from Gladney on Oct. 23, 2004, but he wasn’t in his room. One of Gladney’s lookouts gave Johnson the drugs, but Johnson returned, complaining he had been shorted. Gladney responded by shooting and killing Johnson, later telling the lookout that he did so to “set an example for other punks.”

On June 27, 2007, Gladney was sentenced to concurrent life sentences on the RICO and drug conspiracy convictions, followed by a 10-year sentence on the firearms conviction.

Approximately three years after Gladney was sentenced, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The act increased the drug amount triggering mandatory minimums for cocaine trafficking offenses. In 2018, Congress enacted the First Step Act, authorizing district courts to impose reduced sentences for defendants convicted of federal criminal statute violations modified by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 that were committed before Aug. 3, 2010.

In 2020, Gladney filed a motion to reduce his sentence, citing the sentencing changes Congress implemented. Gladney also requested funds to hire an investigator to gather evidence to support his motion. The district court denied without prejudice Gladney’s request for funds and sentence reduction.

On appeal, Gladney argued the district court erred in finding him ineligible for a reduction of his sentence, claiming the act does not limit eligibility to defendants who were only convicted and sentenced on covered offenses alone.

According to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in determining whether Gladney was entitled to relief under the First Step Act, the district court concluded even if it reduced Gladney’s sentence for the covered convictions, “such reduction would be only of a technical or symbolic nature” because the life sentence for the RICO conviction would continue to control the length of Gladney’s incarceration. For that reason, the district court stated it would “exercise its discretion to decline to consider the application of the First Step Act” to Gladney’s conviction because it would serve only a technical, not practical, purpose. 

In its opinion, the 10th Circuit upheld the district court’s decision and denied Gladney’s abuse of discretion claims. It concluded Gladney’s arguments were largely foreclosed by United States v. Mannie, and he lacked constitutional standing. 

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