Wade v. United States, 504 U.S. 181 (1992)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 91-5771. Argued March 23, 1992—Decided May 18, 1992

After his arrest on, inter alia, federal drug charges, petitioner Wade gave law enforcement officials information that led them to arrest another drug dealer. Subsequently, he pleaded guilty to the charges, and the District Court sentenced him to the 10-year minimum sentence required by 21 U. S. C. 841(b)(1)(B) and the United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual (USSG). The court refused Wade's request that his sentence be reduced below the minimum to reward him for his substantial assistance to the Government, holding that 18 U. S. C. 3553(e) and USSG 5K1.1 empower the district courts to make such a reduction only if the Government files a motion requesting the departure. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting Wade's arguments that the District Court erred in holding that the absence of a Government motion deprived it of the authority to reduce his sentence and that the lower court was authorized to enquire into the Government's motives for failing to file a motion.

Held: 1. Federal district courts have the authority to review the Government's refusal to file a substantial-assistance motion and to grant a remedy if they find that the refusal was based on an unconstitutional motive. Since the parties assume that the statutory and Guidelines provisions pose identical and equally burdensome obstacles, this Court is not required to decide whether 5K1.1 "implements" and thereby supersedes 3553(e) or whether the provisions pose separate obstacles. In both provisions, the condition limiting the court's authority gives the Government a power, not a duty, to file a substantial-assistance motion. Nonetheless, a prosecutor's discretion when exercising that power is subject to constitutional limitations that district courts can enforce. Thus, a defendant would be entitled to relief if the prosecution refused to file a motion for a suspect reason such as the defendant's race or religion. However, neither a claim that a defendant merely provided substantial assistance nor additional but generalized allegations of improper motive will entitle a defendant to a remedy or even to discovery or an evidentiary hearing. A defendant has a right to the latter procedures only if he makes a substantial threshold showing of improper motive. Pp. 184-186.


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