In United States v. Files, No. 21-12859 (Mar. 24, 2023) (Newsom, Luck, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion for a reduced sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act.

The question in the case was whether the district court had authority to reduce the defendant’s sentence for a non-covered offense in addition to a covered offense. In Denson, the Court had previously stated that district courts could reduce a sentence only for a covered offense.  Here, the Court concluded that this statement in Denson was part of the holding of the case. And, it concluded, the Supreme Court’s decision in Concepcion did not abrogate that holding. The Court engaged in a lengthy discussion (which Judge Luck did not join) about when a statement is “necessary” to the result and thus forms part of the holding rather than dicta.

Judge Newsom, joined by Judge Tjoflat, concurred to explain why he believed it is a bad idea for appellate courts to issue alternative holdings.