June Roundup

The end of May was not a good one for anybody sitting at the defense table in Federal (and even State) courtrooms. This post is a quick look at the decisions that make defendant’s lives harder.

Maryland v. King

This case is all about 4th Amendment rights, and what constitutes too much invasion of personal liberties (and one’s own body) without a judge’s authorization. In short, can police take a DNA sample of citizens suspected of felony crimes?

In recent years, law enforcement and prison bureaus have taken DNA samples from inmates who are convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors. These samples get loaded into local and national databases to be compared to DNA samples from unsolved crimes.1

In Maryland, a law was passed which allowed law enforcement to take DNA samples of citizens who were arrested of crimes, but not yet convicted. All without a judicial warrant for this “search” of the body. An old case was solved using DNA, and a conviction for a rape in 2003 was achieved through this process. Defendant King appealed, saying that DNA collection from people not yet convicted of any crime violates 4th Amendment Protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

The United States Supreme Court, in this recent and sharply divided decision, said that these DNA collections are not protected by the 4th Amendment and do not need a judges signature for those arrested for certain crimes.

Some Good News

Managers and leaders are taught in training courses that, in order to communicate dismay, such news must be presented in between positive notes. While there aren’t enough good cases to bookend the bad, there was one decision from the 6th Circuit that bodes exceptionally well in the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) arena.

The FSA 2010 brought down the sentencing disparity in federal courts between powder and crack cocaine. In the pre-FSA days, there was a disparity between sentences of 100:1. This meant that 2.2 pounds of distributed powder cocaine carried the same sentence as only 10 grams of crack cocaine. FSA 2010 brought that ration down to a mere 18:1. These drugs are not treated equally yet, and it still punishes poor urban defendants disproportionately, but its a start.

Later on, the US Sentencing Commission decided unanimously to apply these reductions retroactively. This retroactive ruling, however, did nothing for those sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences before FSA 2010 became active. In US v. Blewett, No. 12-5226 (6th Cir. May 17, 2013), the 6th Circuit decided in a split decision that it would be the UN-Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 if it did not apply retroactively to defendants who were sentenced before the enactment of the law.

This decision is sure to be reviewed by the entire panel of 6th Circuit judges en banc and may well not make it through that review, but its good news for incarcerated crack cocaine defendants in the 6th Circuit until then.

Brady Rules of Evidence

Prosecutors want convictions. Defense council wants the opposite. However, in the American justice system, the prosecutor holds almost all of the cards. The landmark US Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) the interest of justice was put before simple conviction numbers.

This opinion editorial from the NY Time on May 18th begins by describing Brady this way:

Fifty years ago, in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court laid down a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors — to seek justice in fair trials, not merely to win convictions by any means. The court said that due process required prosecutors to disclose to criminal defendants any exculpatory evidence they asked for that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence.
It might seem obvious that prosecutors with any sense of fairness would inform a defendant’s lawyer of evidence that could be favorable to the defendant’s case. But in fact, this principle, known as the Brady rule, has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and has been severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who flout the rule. The court has also declined to require the disclosure of such evidence during negotiations in plea bargains, which account for about 95 percent of cases.

Read more about this complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who commit misconduct from their office in this lengthy Yale Law Journal post. Noting how the Brady decision above has been so thoroughly gutted since 1963, the Times article points out the Thompson case.2

The 2011 case of John Thompson is particularly instructive — as an example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated when an investigator found that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept secret more than a dozen pieces of evidence that cast doubt on Mr. Thompson’s guilt, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights. Outrageous breaches of due process rights in such cases show that the Brady rule — which seems essentially voluntary in some places — is simply insufficient to ensure justice.

To summarize, prosecutors must disclose all evidence which would be beneficial to the defendant, in order to secure fairness in the judicial system. Prosecutors are not supposed to withhold or suppress evidence in order to secure convictions simply for the sake of convictions. However, prosecutors are not required to exercise this mandate during 95% of federal cases because that many cases end up with plea deals. Further, even if a prosecutor plays unfairly, there are no consequences of note.

Many clients believe that the cards are stacked against them. If this isn’t objective evidence enough that they’re right, what is?
And last but not least…

Fricosu: A final Update

This is a story that we’ve followed through half-dozen-or-so posts (see here, here, here, and here to get started). The anti-climatic ending to this very important 5th Amendment case was reported in this related article over at Wired.com yesterday.

What could have been a huge case in the 5th Amendment fight against a judiciary that doesn’t understand technology fizzled when a co-defendant went all “5K” and gave authorities the password that Fricosu was supposed to supply.

  1. crimes of murder, rape and the like… []
  2. Connick v. Thompson, 09-571 (SCOTUS 2011) []

Huge Win for Inmates in Dorsey/Hill Decisions

Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

Crack Cocaine Pipeline Cases Decided by SCOTUS

Its a big day at the United States Supreme Court. Inmates have been waiting for nearly two years for the high court to decide on a Circuit Court split that meant decades in longer sentences for crack cocaine “Pipeline” cases.

Read our prior post on the Hill case and “Pipeline” cases.

The Supreme Court handed down an extremely divided decision today in a 5-4 ruling for the defendants. Below is a quick recap of the issues.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010: This law, passed by Congress, lowered the penalties on crack cocaine offenses to be close to those of powder cocaine sentences.

Pending Cases: Defendants whose cases which started before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 took effect1, but were sentenced afterwards were sometimes given the new, lower sentences. Some, however, got the older and longer sentences. These cases were in the pipeline when the law took effect.

Most Circuit Courts who decided this issue granted the lower sentences to the Appellants.2 The Seventh (surprise, surprise) and Sixth Circuit3 went the other direction and decided that the older (and “unfair”) sentences were appropriate.

What Happens Now

At this point, all inmates who were charged with crack cocaine offenses before August of 2010, but sentenced afterward need to take a close look at their sentences. If sentenced under old rules, they could be eligible for years in sentence reductions with a simple 3582 motion.

Let Us Help You!

Call us at (480) 382-9287 for a free consultation to find out how we can help you and your incarcerated loved one get sentences reduced.

For more ways to contact us, visit our contact us page for contact form and e-mail addresses.

Learn about us and how our services work on our about page.

  1. August of 2010 []
  2. See the Third and First Circuit cases []
  3. United States v. Carradine, ___ F.3d ___, No. 08-3220, 2010 WL 3619799, at *4-*5 (6th Cir. Sept. 20, 2010 []

Supreme Court Grants Cert. to FSA Pipeline Issue

Hill v. United States (11-5721)

Fair Sentencing Act and Crack Cocaine cases before and after its implementation are going to get their day in the Supreme Court!

Great news today from the United States Supreme Court. With a split in Circuit Court decisions regarding application of Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guideline reductions from the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA), the Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments and resolve this issue once and for all.

In Hill v. United States, the defendant asserts that the reductions in Crack Cocaine sentences which arose from the passage of FSA applies to all defendants sentenced after the date of enactment of the new law: August 3, 2010.

Since the name “Fair Sentencing Act” implies that prior sentencing rules were unfair, its only logical to think that courts would apply the new guidelines to all defendants sentenced after its enactment, right? Wrong.

Although the First, Third, and Eleventh Circuits have agreed with this conclusion, the 7th Circuit has decided to apply the new reductions only to defendants who committed their crimes after August 3, 2010. All defendants already awaiting sentencing after that day were still sentenced under the older, harsher rules.

FSA Pipeline Cases Defined

These cases are called “Pipeline” cases. FSA pipeline cases are where defendants committed and charged with their offenses before the enactment of FSA, but had yet to be sentenced. Many believed they would get a more fair sentence immediately following the bill’s enactment date, and many received no such relief.

What Does This Mean?

The Supreme Court must now decide if the application of the newer, fairer law should have been applied to all pending sentences as of August 3, 2010. If it decides that this is the case, the decision is a huge victory for a lot of defendants with FSA pipeline cases.

Even if the Supreme Court decides that many defendants were sentenced under the old law unfairly, there is still work to be done. Each defendant must petition their sentencing court to reduce their sentence in the same way that the current USSC policy allows for. The biggest change that could come from this decision is the application of lengthy mandatory minimum sentences that could then be removed.

Keep checking in for the latest on the Hill case!

US Sentencing Commission Posts 2011 Amendments

New 2011 Amendments from U.S.S.C.

With October upon us, and November first rapidly approaching, PCR Consultants is starting a yearly tradition of breaking down this year’s amendments to the United States Sentencing Guidelines as published by the US Sentencing Commission (U.S.S.C.). Each year, these amendments become active on the first day of November.

To find out how PCR Consultants can help you take advantage of these new amendments, contact us for a free consultation at (480) 382-9287.

Here is a breakdown of the Amendments, what changed, and how they may help or hurt federal defendants, inmates, and those on probation.

The Amendments

Fair Sentencing Act: The Commission re-submitted its changes to crack cocaine sentencing guidelines per the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. On June 30, 2011 the Commission voted unanimously to make the guidelines changes retroactive. Read more on our Crack Cocaine Sentence Reductions page.

Supervised Release: Learn more about getting early release from federal probation or supervised release with the help of PCR Consultants on our Early Termination Page. This year, four changes were made to Supervised Release and federal Probation:

  1. Deportable Aliens: This change effectively eliminates Supervised Release for defendants who are not required it by law, and are likely to be deported after imprisonment;
  2. Lesser Terms of Supervised Release: The Commission lowered the minimum term of Supervised Release under §2D1.2 from three years to two years from Class A and B felonies, and from 2 years to one year for Class C and D felonies;
  3. Guidance on Imposing Supervised Release Terms: The Commission added criminal history and substance abuse to what the court should consider in determining whether to impose supervised release, and for how long;1
  4. Early Termination of Supervised Release: §5D1.2, has been amended with language which specifically encourages courts to consider early termination of supervised release “in appropriate cases.” An example provided is a substance abuser who successfully completes a treatment program, “thereby reducing the risk to the public from further crimes of the defendant.”

Illegal Reentry: The Commission reduced but didn’t eliminate, the enhancements based on stale convictions or convictions that do not receive criminal history points under chapter 4 of the guidelines. This amendment also provides an upward departure if the new enhancement “does not adequately reflect the extent or seriousness of the conduct underlying the prior conviction.

Mitigating Role: This amendment changed the language of its notes to §3B1.2 (Mitigating Role) to encourage the courts to apply the adjustment therein. This amendment struck (1) from Application Note 3(c)2 and (2) from Application Note 43. This amendment encourages the court that it can, and should, give this adjustment when the only evidence of role rests upon circumstantial evidence and the defendant’s statement of his/her participation.

The US Sentencing Commission also changed the language of §1B1.3 (Relevant Conduct) to help clients who are charged with fraud crimes but benefited little from the overall fraud scheme.

Firearms: Guidelines §2K2.1 and §2M5.2 are changed for the worse. In §2K2.1, the Commission increased penalties for straw purchasers, added a 4-level enhancement (and floor of 18 points) when a defendant left or tried to leave the US while possessing any firearm or ammunition. There is, however, language for downward departure for straw purchasers who were motivated by an intimate or familiar relationship or by threats or fear to commit the offense, where no monetary benefit from the offense exists.

The changes to §2M5.2 raised penalties for cases involving small arms crossing the border, increasing the base offense level from 14 to 26 in cases involving more than two (changed from 10) non-fully automatic small arms.

Fraud: Responding to new health care legislation, §2B1.1 was amended in two ways. First, tiered enhancements for loss amounts of over $1 million were added. Second, a new rule for loss amounts in healthcare fraud cases was added, but is arguable.

Child Support: Defendants convicted of willful failure to pay court-ordered child support are no longer subject to a 2-level enhancement under §2B1.1(b)(8)(C).

Drug Disposal Act: This final amendment broadens the list of people who can be subject to an enhancement for abusing a position of trust or use of a special skill. This is ordinarily used in drug offenses.

**************************

  1. Adding these to the statutory factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. §3583 []
  2. Stating that the court “is not required to find, based solely on the defendant’s bare assertion, that such a role adjustment is warranted” []
  3. The statement: “It is intended that the downward adjustment for minimal participant will be used infrequently []

Vote to Determine Retroactivity of Crack Reduction Today

USSC Crack Reduction Vote

From the Associated Press, an article about the United States Sentencing Commission vote today to determine if the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 will be made retroactive to currently incarcerated Crack Cocaine offenders. If passed, this could take an about 3 years off a sentence of a conviction involving Crack Cocaine. Here is an excerpt from that article :


Congress passed a law last year substantially lowering recommended sentences for people convicted of crack cocaine crimes, ranging from possession to trafficking. The idea was to fix a longstanding disparity in punishments for crack and powder cocaine crimes, but the new, lower recommended sentences for crack offenders didn’t automatically apply to people already in prison. Now it is up to the six-member U.S. Sentencing Commission to decide whether offenders locked up for crack offenses before the new law took effect should also benefit and get out earlier.

Up to 12,000 of the some 200,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons nationwide could be affected. A report by the commission estimates that the average sentence reduction would be approximately three years, though a judge would still have to approve any reduction.

“There is a tremendous amount of hope out there,” said Mary Price, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group for prisoners and their relatives. “There is a potential that people could see their sentences reduced, for some quite dramatically.”

At a meeting in early June, commissioners suggested they want to apply the lower recommended sentences to at least some past offenders, but it is unclear how many. Advocacy groups have asked for the widest possible application while a group of 15 Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate wrote a letter to the commission saying the Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress last year was not intended to benefit any past offenders.

Keep reading soon as we will post more on this as the vote unfolds.