The ringleader of a Florida-to-Ohio Oxycodone distribution operation recently lost his plea for a lower sentence in a federal court of appeals.
Henry Tippett pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to conspiracy charges arising from the drug operation and appealed his 96-month prison sentence, which was on the low end of his sentencing guidelines range.
In the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, Tippett argued that his sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable.
According to court documents, prior to sentencing Tippett argued that the Sentencing Commission incorrectly changed the oxycodone equivalence as it relates to marijuana.
Tippett argued, “In 2003, when the commission changed the equivalency for oxycodone as it relates to marijuana, it based it on the wrong pill, which essentially we would call it an Oxy 10 or Perc 10, rather, a 10-milligram pill, and that has resulted in essentially an overstatement of the importance of 30-milligram pills, which results in an artificially high guideline calculation.”
Tippett claimed that the government “overstated the harm” when it calculated his base offense level.
The district court rejected Tippett’s equivalency argument, concluding, “It’s the increasing appreciation of the very harmful effects of these drugs that have likely influenced the Sentencing Commission … in revising the calculations and the formulas to be used in calculating the guideline sentencing range for these offenses.
“The court believes that the harmful effects of the drugs are a very important sentencing factor in this case.”
In devising his sentence, the district court considered Tippett’s leadership role in the conspiracy and the fact that he used vulnerable people as “employees” in his scheme.
“These medications, these synthetic narcotics, are a precursor to heroin addiction,” the district court stated. “They are extremely damaging to the community, and we have seen in this community, as in many other communities in the country, an increase of deaths from overdoses from the taking of oxycodone or the drug that it often leads to, heroin.”
In the 6th Circuit court, Tippett argued that his sentence was unreasonable because the district court “relied on erroneous evidence that oxycodone use can lead to heroin use and cause death by overdose.”
“Tippett does not meaningfully dispute whether oxycodone use can lead to heroin addiction or an increase in overdose deaths; rather, he only attempts to poke holes in the source the government provided for that statement,” Judge Bernice Donald wrote in the opinion she authored on behalf of the 6th Circuit court’s three-judge appellate panel. “The record does not support the view that the district court relied on the source cited by the government rather than on its own experience in sentencing.”
The appellate court also held that even though the district court mentioned heroin, under a fair reading of its decision, the district court’s concern was with the seriousness of the harm caused by oxycodone generally, not specifically the harm derived from a possible connection between oxycodone and heroin abuse.
“But even if it relied on this study and based its sentencing decision in part on a connection between oxycodone and heroin use and addiction, the district court’s imposition of the sentence was not procedurally unreasonable,” Donald held. “It considered all of the relevant (sentencing) factors and explained its reasoning for imposing the sentence and rejecting Tippett’s arguments.”
Tippett also argued that the district court’s reliance on the connection between oxycodone and heroin use led to its rejection of his equivalency argument.
But the circuit court held that it was made clear that even if the lower court had accepted Tippett’s argument, it would have imposed the same sentence because of the nature of his offense.
“For the foregoing reasons, we affirm Tippett’s sentence,” Donald concluded.
Judges Danny Boggs and Eugene Siler concurred.
The case is cited United States v. Tippett, Case No. 15-4428.