Sentencing

The Federal Docket

BOP States It Has No Immediate Plans to Send Inmates on Home Confinement Back to Prison, But That Could Chance

BOP Director Michael Carvajal testified before the Senate on April 15, 2021. He testified that the BOP does not currently have any immediate plans to send inmates back to prison who are currently on home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The director also testified, however, that Congress needs to pass a law to ensure inmates are not send back when the COVID-19 emergency order is lifted.

United States v. Tony Dewayne Williams (6th Cir. March 2021)

The Sixth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence which was enhanced based on a prior felony conviction under Tennessee law involving marijuana. The Court held that the sentencing court erred in enhancing the defendant’s sentence based on that conviction because the Tennessee law at issue included hemp under the definition of marijuana, while hemp was distinguishable and legal under federal law. Therefore, the Tennessee conviction was not a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines. However, since the defendant had only objected generally at sentencing and did not articulate grounds for his objection, plain error review applied, and the sentencing court’s error here were not clear or obvious given the complexity of the issue.

United States v. Precias Freeman (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit vacated a drug defendant’s sentence for two reasons. First, it held that, despite there having been no hearing where sentencing counsel testified, the record was sufficient to establish that defendant received ineffective assistance when her counsel waived meritorious objections to the guidelines that would have resulted in a lower range and where he put his efforts into getting her in a drug program despite not knowing the program’s requirements for admission. The Court also held that the defendant’s 17-year sentence was substantively unreasonable where the sentencing court failed to consider her severe opioid addiction and that her sentence was significantly longer than those of similarly-situated defendants across the country.

Group of Current and Former Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Officials Issue Joint Statement on Need to Reduce Extreme Sentences

This month, a group of current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials issued a “Joint Statement on Sentencing Chances and Addressing Past Extreme Sentences.” The group is calling for reforms including the expansion of compassionate release, new agencies or units to review long sentences, and prospective limits on prosecutors’ ability to charge individuals for offenses that carry especially long mandatory minimums.

Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits Join Majority of Circuits Holding that Courts Have Broad Discretion in Granting Sentence Reductions

The Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have issued opinions over the past few weeks holding that district courts have broad, independent discretion in determining whether an inmate has established “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting a sentence reduction under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A). The courts join the Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits in recognizing the broad discretion of district courts, creating a substantial majority of the circuits. The other circuits have not yet addressed this issue.

United States v. Simha Furaha (9th Cir. March 2021)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence after the defendant challenged the district court’s application of an enhancement based on the defendant’s prior conviction under 924(c), which the sentencing court considered a “controlled substance offense” warranting an enhancement. The Court held that a sentencing court may apply the modified categorical approach to determine whether a defendant’s underlying “drug trafficking crime” under 924(c) was a “controlled substance offense” under 4B1.2.

Jeffery Bridges v. United States (March 7th Cir. 2021)

The Seventh Circuit remanded a defendant’s 2255 motion for an evidentiary hearing, holding that the defendant had made a sufficient showing that he may have received ineffective assistance of counsel based on his lawyer’s failure to argue that his Hobbs Act robbery was not a crime of violence under the career offender provision of the sentencing guidelines. While the Seventh Circuit had not yet decided whether Hobbs Act robbery was a crime of violence at the time of the defendant’s sentencing, other circuits had, the categorical approach under the Guidelines was well-known, and this was enough to warrant at least a hearing to determine whether the defendant’s counsel failed to reasonably investigate the issue before the defendant’s sentencing.

DOJ Changes Position on First Step Act’s Sentence Reductions for Crack Offenders

In Terry v. US, involving the scope of the First Step Act’s sentence reductions for crack offenders, the DOJ has changed its position to support a broader reading of the law. Under the defendant and DOJ’s reading of the law, more inmates convicted for crack cocaine offenses will have “covered offenses” making them eligible for sentence reductions.

Jerome Williams v. United States (11th Cir. January 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s 2255 motion based on Johnson where the defendant argued that the caselaw at the time of his sentencing indicated he was more than likely sentenced under the residual clause of the ACCA. The Court disagreed, holding that the legal landscape was ambiguous and that the defendant failed to meet his burden of proving the sentencing court’s reliance on the residual clause.

United States v. Jennifer Riccardi (6th Cir. March 2021)

The Sixth Circuit reversed a defendant’s sentence for possession of unauthorized access devices because the loss amount had been based on Guidelines commentary mandating that a minimum loss amount of $500 had to be added for every unauthorized access device. The Court held that the commentary improperly expanded the text of 2B1.1, not merely interpreting it.

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