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The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently released statistics reflecting trends in federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking. The stats reflect that, since 2016, the number of federal marijuana trafficking cases has significantly and consistently decreased. The stats also broke down the number of offenders in BOP custody for marijuana, how many received downward variances, and other trends.
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Late last month, the Department of Justice submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate “urging Congress to pass legislation to permanently end the sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The DOJ stated that the sentencing disparity, established in the 1980s, was based on “misguided policy” and “misinformation.” The DOJ further noted that 87.5% of people in federal prison serving time for crack offenses were black. Senator Grassley issued a written statement in support of reforming federal drug laws but criticized the DOJ for not providing a live witness.
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The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released data reflecting the number of “compassionate release” motions that have been granted during the COVID-19 pandemic (21%). The report breaks down the data by showing how many were granted and denied by district and by the year when the inmate’s original sentence was imposed, as well as other information.
Recent Supreme Court Opinions
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In a 6-3 opinion with several justices concurring in the judgment, the Supreme Court reversed the denial of a defendant’s suppression motion after an officer entered his garage without a warrant after chasing him for a misdemeanor traffic offense. The Court held that the flight of a person suspected of a misdemeanor does not categorically create exigency sufficient to allow the warrantless entry into a home. Instead, a case-by-case analysis must be performed to see if, under the totality of the circumstances, there is a true emergent need to act before a warrant could be obtained.
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In a 9-0 decision (with J. Sotomayor concurring in the judgment), the Supreme Court held that a defendant who had been convicted for a crack-cocaine offense that did not carry a mandatory minimum did not have a conviction for a “covered offense” under the First Step Act and was thus ineligible to move for a sentence reduction. The First Step Act had the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.
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In an almost unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that defendants in post-conviction proceedings alleging plain error under Rehaif must make a sufficient showing that they could have presented evidence at trial that they did not know they were a felon at the time they possessed the firearm. The Court affirmed the conviction of two defendants, one who pleaded guilty and one who was convicted by a jury, after finding that neither of them had presented any evidence or argument that they were unaware that they were felons and that both had multiple prior convictions.
Recent Circuit Court Opinions
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The D.C. Circuit held that a defendant’s right against doubly jeopardy was violated where he was convicted of both unlawful receipt or possession of a firearm or destructive device and unlawful making of a firearm, as these counts were multiplicitous.
The D.C. Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for unlawfully attempting to enter the White House or its grounds, though the defendant had mistakenly tried to enter the U.S. Treasury building. Upon appeal from the defendant’s bench trial, the Court held that the district court had jurisdiction because the information charged a violation of a federal statute, even if the specific facts alleged did not constitute an actual violation. Additionally, the Court held that the district court did not err in amending the information to find the defendant guilty of attempt despite the information not listing this theory of conviction.
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence. The Court held that the district court had failed to elicit objections before pronouncing sentence, but the record was sufficient on appeal so remand was not necessary. Regarding the merits, the Court held that the district court had properly applied the enhancement for firearm possession under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) and denied safety valve relief under 5C1.2. While a defendant can still qualify for the safety valve even though the firearm enhancement applies, the defendant here did not meet the requirement for safety valve because the district court found his firearm was “definitely connected” to his drug offense.
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.