Sentencing

The Federal Docket

Nance v. Ward (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2022)

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court held that a 1983 claim was the proper vehicle for a death row inmate challenging his manner of execution.

DOJ Proposes Final Rule to Allow Inmates On CARES Act Home Confinement to Remain Free

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice proposed a final rule authorizing the director of the BOP to “allow prisoners placed in home confinement under the CARES Act to remain in home confinement after the expiration of the covered emergency period,” in this case the COVID-19 pandemic. It was previously unclear whether inmates would have to return to prison when the pandemic ends. The proposed rule includes a significant amount of background information regarding the CARES Act, home confinement, and the BOP’s emergency operations.

Comments may be submitted until July 21, 2022 through the “regulations.gov website” or mailed to the Rules Unit, Office of General Counsel, Bureau of Prisons, 320 First Street NW, Washington, DC.

United States v. Jackson (11th Cir. June 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence that had been enhanced under the ACCA after the district court held that the defendant’s prior conviction was a “serious drug offense.” However, the statute under which the defendant was previously convicted under state law also prohibited ioflupane, which was not a controlled substance at the time of the defendant’s federal prosecution. Citing fair notice and due process concerns, the Court concluded that sentencing courts must “apply the version of the Controlled Substance Act Schedules in place when the defendant committed the federal firearm-possession offense for which he is being sentenced,” as opposed to the schedules in effect when the defendant is convicted of his predicate state offenses.

United States v. Farley (10th Cir. June 2022)

The Tenth Circuit remanded a defendant for re-sentencing after holding that the district court clearly erred in calculating the guidelines and determining a sentence. The district court had rejected the parties recommended sentence, noting it would have had to depart “10 levels” to get there, where the court only would have had to depart one level. Since the court relied on that error in sentencing the defendant substantially above the recommended sentence, the error was reversible, and the Court remanded for re-sentencing.

United States v. Merrell, et al (9th Cir. June 2022)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed petitioner’s new sentences that were imposed after petitioners won a 2255 motion based on the First Step Act’s changes to 18 USC 924(c), a statute which carries a mandatory minimum of five years, consecutive to any other sentence imposed, and previously carried a minimum of 25 years for any subsequent convictions. Congress amended 924(c) so that “subsequent convictions” would not include 924(c) counts in a single indictment, and the Ninth Circuit held that the petitioners could be re-sentenced under the new version of the law since their original sentences had previously been vacated and were thus considered void.

Sentencing Commission publishes report on recidivism rates for former inmates in BOP programs

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has published a report titled Recidivism and Federal Bureau of Prisons Programs: Drug Program Participants Released in 2010. The report studies the recidivism rates of former inmates who participated in some of the BOP’s programs, such as the Resident Drug Abuse Treatment Program, Occupational Education Programs, and Federal Prison Industries jobs. Among other things, the report reflects that inmates who completed drug treatment programs while in custody had a relatively lower rate of re-offending.

United States v. Stines (11th Cir. May 2022)

In a matter of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence for illegally exporting firearms. The Court concluded that the lower offense level under USSG 2M5.2(a)(2) did not apply since the defendant’s offense involved more than 2 firearms, where the defendant had exported enough firearm parts to assemble two guns and enough spare parts to service additional firearms.

United States v. Arellanes-Portillo (10th Cir. May 2022)

The Tenth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence after finding that the district court plainly erred in applying a role enhancement. The district court had enhanced the defendant’s guidelines for his money laundering offense based on relevant conduct for his drug offense, which was plainly not allowed under USSG 2S1.1 Application Note 2(C).

United States v. Vargas (5th Cir. May 2022)

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence as a career offender based on his prior convictions. The defendant argued that his prior convictions did not count as “controlled substances” under the Guidelines since the Guidelines themselves do not include inchoate drug offenses like attempt and conspiracy–only the commentary to the Guidelines does. The Fifth Circuit deepened a circuit split by holding that the commentary are still binding on courts notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kisor v. Wilkie.

United States v. Gardner (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s ACCA-enhanced sentence. While the defendant’s three prior convictions under Alabama law were punishable by less than ten years under Alabama’s sentencing guidelines, the Court relied on the statutory maximum of over 10 years for those convictions in holding that they were “serious drug offenses” under the ACCA.

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