Most cases before the Court of Appeals are there because the District Court accepted the arguments of one party or the other. The party that did not prevail noted an appeal and the two sides continue to advocate for their respective positions before the appeals court. There is, however, a narrow subsection of cases where the parties agreed as to what the correct ruling in a case should be, but the District Court nonetheless rules otherwise. We are then faced with the odd situation where the defense and the government are jointly asking the appellate court to reverse the judgment of the District Court. In these cases, the parties usually get what they wanted in the first place, but not before the Court of Appeals recruits an attorney to defend the District Court’s ruling.
This sequence of events played out in Lance Williams’s case. In 2008, Williams pleaded guilty to distributing crack and faced an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence of 240 months’ incarceration. Absent the government’s motion for that enhanced sentence, his advisory sentencing guidelines range would have been 130 to 162 months’ incarceration. Shortly before his sentencing, the government moved for a downward departure based on his substantial assistance to law enforcement. He therefore received a 180-month sentence on the government’s recommendation.
Three years later, Williams filed a pro se motion for sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). In the motion, he argued that amendments to the sentencing guidelines, which were expressly retroactive, made him eligible for a sentence reduction. As the case progressed, the probation office, Williams’s newly appointed attorney, and the government all argued that Williams should receive a sentence reduction.