In United States v. Thomas, No. 19-11670 (Apr. 25, 2022) (Branch, Grant, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed Mr. Thomas’s sentence.
Mr. Thomas appealed his 120-month sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and 1 kilogram or more of heroin. He argued that the district court erred in (1) applying a two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(12), and (2) failing to apply the safety valve of U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2.
With regard to § 2D1.1(b)(12), the PSI asserted that Mr. Thomas had maintained a stash house for the purpose of manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance. In support, the PSI noted that Mr. Thomas had possessed a key to the drug trailer located in the backyard of the stash house. Mr. Thomas argued that he did not own the stash house, did not reside there (though he did concede that he did live there for a small part of the conspiracy), and possessed a key only to the trailer, not the house.
The Court found application of a two-level enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(12) appropriate because of Mr. Thomas’s concession that he lived at the stash house for a good portion of the conspiracy. As a result, the district court was entitled to assume he had unfettered access to and control over the premises. That he moved out of the stash house at some point prior to police’s seizure of the drugs and firearms does not affect the analysis. The Court reasoned that Mr. Thomas did not need to maintain the premises for the purposes of distributing drugs for the entire conspiracy to be eligible for a sentencing enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(12); he merely needed to do so for a portion of the conspiracy.
As for safety valve, the Court first found that the district court erred when it concluded that the two-level firearm enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(1) necessarily barred Mr. Thomas from safety valve relief. The Court reaffirmed that a defendant who receives a firearm enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(1) can still secure safety valve relief if he shows that it is more likely than not that the possession of the firearm was not in connection with the offense. Nevertheless, Mr. Thomas was ineligible for safety valve relief because he failed to meet his burden of showing that he met each of the five safety-valve criteria. More specifically, he could not satisfy § 5C1.2(a)(5) because he refused to provide the government with any of the information he had concerning the drug operation.