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Senate Confirms Full Slate of Commissioners for the U.S. Sentencing Commission

For the first time since 2019, the U.S. Sentencing Commission will have a quorum of members and the ability to promulgate new guidelines and regulations for federal sentencing. The Commission’s newest members were approved by the U.S. Senate by voice vote on August 4, 2022. Click here to read our previous coverage of the newest appointees to the Commission.

Senate Subcommittee to Hear Testimony on “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level”

On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at 2:30PM, the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism will hold a hearing on decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level. The witnesses include Dr. Malik Burnett, medical director of the Maryland Department of Health’s Center for Harm Reduction Services, Edward Jackson, the Chief of Annapolis Police Department, Weldon Angelos, a former inmate who received a pardon and is now the president of the Weldon Project, Steven Cook, a former Associate Deputy Attorney General under Jeff Sessions, and Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter known for his attempts to link marijuana to violent crime and mental illness.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases Two New Reports: Life Sentences in the Federal System & Older Offenders in the Federal System

The U.S. Sentencing Commission released two new reports regarding offenders serving life sentences in federal prison and older offenders sentenced in federal court. The reports include a substantial amount of data regarding the types of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment or “de facto” life imprisonment. The reports also illustrate the differences in how older offenders are sentenced compared to younger offenders, as well as other characteristics of older offenders.

Recent Supreme Court Opinions

Ruan v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2022)

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that the prosecution in a “pill mill” case, where a doctor has been charged with unlawfully prescribing drugs, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the doctor was acting in a manner not authorized by the statute, i.e. that the doctor knew that their prescribing practices were unauthorized and was not acting in “good faith.” Previously, doctors could be convicted if their prescriptions were not for a legitimate purpose or otherwise not within the usual course of a professional medical practice–a standard resembling negligence.

Concepcion v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2022)

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court held that courts considering an inmate’s motion to reduce sentence pursuant to Section 404(b) of the First Step Act, which applies to crack-cocaine convictions, may consider all relevant materials when considering whether to modify, and by how much, the inmate’s sentence. Some legal scholars believe the opinion should help resolve the circuit split regarding what circumstances a court can consider when reviewing an inmate’s motion for “compassionate release.”

Vega v. Tekoh (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2022)

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that an officer’s interrogation in violation of Miranda does not create a constitutional claim under 42 USC 1983. The Court took a narrow view of Miranda warnings as merely a vehicle to protect other underlying rights, not as an underlying right itself.

Recent Circuit Court Opinions

United States v. Chappelle (7th Cir. July 2022)

Joining seven other circuits, the Second Circuit held that Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under the Guidelines for Career Offender, USSG 4B1.2(a), because the offense can be applied to conduct involving only violence against property, not against other people. The Court also upheld the district court’s finding that Application Note 1 to 4B1.2, which states that conspiracy to commit a crime of violence is a “crime of violence,” was not binding because the note is inconsistent with the text of 4B1.2 itself, which does not include conspiracy as one of the predicate offenses for career offender.

United States v. Thayer (7th Cir. July 2022)

Over a dissent, the Seventh Circuit vacated a district court’s order dismissing an indictment for failing to comply with SORNA. The Court held that, defining a “sex offense” through 34 USC 20911’s definition a “specified offense against a minor,” courts must apply a “circumstance-specific approach” focusing on the defendant’s actual conduct underlying the prior conviction, not a categorical approach. Judge Jackson-Akiwumi dissented, arguing that the language under 20911 was similar to other statutes that require analysis through a categorical approach.

King v. United States (11th Cir. July 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of a defendant’s motion under 28 USC 2255. The Court held that the defendant’s motion was properly waived based on his plea agreement, notwithstanding changes in the law that undermined his conviction under 924(c), holding that the waiver exception for sentences over the statutory maximum is based on the maximum “in effect at the time of sentencing,” and not the maximum based on subsequent new laws.

The Federal Docket

The Federal Docket is a monthly newsletter providing lawyers and the community a summary of recent important decisions in the area of federal criminal law from the United States Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts of Appeal. The opinions are compiled, summarized and analyzed by Tom Church, an attorney in our firm’s federal criminal defense practice.

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