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August 24, 2011

Seventh Circuit judges explain their latest views on FSA pipeline cases

Regular readers know that district court and circuit courts have been struggling through (and splitting) on whether the new crack mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act apply in cases involved offenses pre-dating the new law but not yet sentenced.  The Seventh Circuit was the first, and remains the only, circuit to rule expressly that the old harsher 100-1 mandatories still apply to these pipeline cases.  Today, though a set of opinions in US v. Holcomb, No. 11-1558 (7th Cir. Aug. 24, 2011) (available here), a number of Seventh Circuit judges explain at length their latest thinking on this issue in opinion that accompany an order refusing to reconsider this issue en banc.

There is a lot of interest in these opinion for those like me who have been following this debate closely.  Here are a few snippets, first from the end of Judge Easterbrook's 16-page opinion:

If the President wants to apply the lower min imum and maximum penalt ies to all cases, pending and closed, he has only to issue a general commutation. The pardon power permits the President to achieve retroactive lenience if he is willing to pay the political price. By contrast, the judiciary must implement compromises faithfully, even when most judge s wi sh that the political decision had been different. I have therefore voted not to hear these appeals en banc.

Now from the second paragraph of Judge Williams' 20-page opinion:

Our circuit should have heard this case en banc.  Three other circuits have ruled that judges no longer must impose unfair sentences after the Fair Sentencing Act.  This issue affects pending cases and many c ases to come in light of the five-year statute of limitations on drug prosecutions. There were equal votes to grant and deny rehearing en banc.  So our circuit’s law stands, and it is wrong.

Some prior posts on this FSA pipeline issue: 

August 24, 2011 at 04:25 PM | Permalink


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