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December 11, 2008

Fugitive mom back in Michigan court pleading for a sentencing break three decades later

Lefeve Some may recall the remarkable story of long-time fugitive Susan LeFevre (background here), a drug crime defendant who escaped from a Michigan prison in the 1970s and lived for three decades and raised a family in California under another name.  As detailed in this local press report, LeFevre is back in court and thus back in the news.  And, fascinatingly, the debate is over mandatory sentencing terms and pre-sentencing procedures even three decades later:

She maddeningly refused to answer the most innocuous question. Other times she rambled. Still other times she ignored her attorney's advice to stop talking. During a disjointed two hours on the witness stand Wednesday, a wealthy California woman who escaped from a Michigan prison 32 years ago tried to explain why her original prison sentence should be shortened.

By the time she finished, the only thing Susan LeFevre may have accomplished was raising doubts in the mind of the judge who will decide her fate. After listening to LeFevre and other witnesses during a hearing that began and ended with tears, Saginaw Circuit Judge William Crane continued the matter until January to give the prosecutor and defense attorneys time to submit written legal arguments.

But Crane was clearly unimpressed with LeFevre's testimony, especially when she claimed she wasn't guilty of the drug charges that she pleaded guilty to in 1975. She said the only reason she admitted selling drugs back then was to mollify prosecutors so they would support her bid for probation. Instead she received a 10-20 year sentence....

Her replies frustrated her two defense attorneys, who aren't contesting the original conviction. Rather, the attorneys are contesting the long prison sentence on other grounds.

They said LeFevre never had a chance to see her presentence report prior to her sentencing. If she had, she could have corrected numerous errors in it that may have influenced the original judge's sentencing, including the fact that she was a big-time dealer pocketing $2,000 a week. Also, the original judge erred by following a Saginaw court policy of sentencing anyone selling heroin to 10-20 years in prison, the defense attorneys said. LeFevre was a first-time offender who should have received far less, they said.

Assistant Saginaw County Prosecutor Paul Fehrman argued Wednesday that LeFevre waived her right to seek a new sentence when she escaped from prison in 1975. She should have tried to appeal her sentence, he said. "She made a conscious decision to leave Michigan and stay away for 30 years," he said. "She took matters into her own hands."

December 11, 2008 at 08:15 AM | Permalink

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Comments

As a Michigan defense lawyer for 34 years, I know that many courts around the state had unauthorized sentencing "policies" for drug cases, under which defendants would always receive the statutory minimum sentence, regardless of the fact that the judges had the discretion to depart. Our appellate courts reversed and remanded when a defendant could show, for example from a comment by the judge, that the judge was imposing a sentence pursuant to policy and refusing to exercise discretion. Saginaw County had such a policy, illegal under Michigan sentencing law.

Posted by: John Minock | Dec 11, 2008 10:34:57 AM

Susan LEfevre needs your support!
Please visit the online petition at
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/LeFevre?e

Let Judge Crane know that Susan should be sentenced under today's guidelines.

For more info, please visit www.freesusanlefevre.com

Posted by: anna | Dec 11, 2008 12:31:10 PM

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In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB