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April 15, 2018

Another federal court reaction to federal sentencing realities of modern drug war

In this post a few weeks ago, I noted an interesting Seventh Circuit ruling which not only explored ineffective assistance of counsel in plea negotiations, but also highlighted how our federal drug laws can functionally operate to turn a seemingly minor crime into an offense carrying a 20-year mandatory minimum.  That post generated a lot of thoughtful comments, leading me to think it worthwhile to spotlight another drug war sentencing tale with a different variation in the work of counsel and court.

Specifically, a couple of helpful readers sent me a notable sentencing memorandum and a recently unsealed sentencing opinion in US v. Smith, No. 6:17-cr-147-Orl-31KRS (M.D. Fla. Feb. 27, 2018). In this case, as explained by the sentencing judge, Judge Gregory Presnell, Tyrone Smith faced a huge increase in his sentence range under the career-offender guideline for two prior low-level cocaine sales:

Smith was arrested and charged in Count 2 of the Indictment with distribution of a mixture containing a detectable amount of carfentanil.  He pled guilty and appeared before me for sentencing.  The PSR (Doc. 80) scored defendant with a base of 24.  Subtracting two levels for his minor role in the offense and three levels for his acceptance of responsibility, his guideline score would be 19.  With a criminal history score of III, his suggested guideline sentence would be 37-46 months. But the prior state court offenses described above make defendant a career offender as defined by USSG 4B1.1.  Application of this enhancement increases defendant’s score from 19-III to 29-VI, resulting in a guideline range of 151-188 months, a 400% increase for selling $120 worth of cocaine ten years ago!

Running through the 3553(a) factors and noting the "growing chorus of federal judges who reject application of the career offender guideline in certain cases," Judge Presnell concluded "that a reasonable sentence in this case is 30 months, which constitutes a modest downward variance from the low end of defendant’s unenhanced guideline score."

I have provided here for downloading counsel's sentencing memorandum for Tyrone Smith as well as Judge Presnell's "Bench Sentencing Opinion":

Download Sentencing memorandum Final

Download Bench Sentencing Opinion

April 15, 2018 at 09:08 PM | Permalink


Out of convenience for readers, I suggest these two links - one referenced in the opinion by Judge Presnell.



Posted by: atomicfrog | Apr 16, 2018 8:07:17 AM

OMG, its another judge being a "problem," and considering an individualized result "reasonable," rather than following the lead of the USAO. The horror, the horror.

Or might I be optimistic and hope the USAO took a position other than "the USSG range and see you later," in consideration of this defendant's history? But, if it did, this view would be nearly remarkable, a circumstance which, at the end of the day, is precisely the real problem.

Posted by: miketrials | Apr 16, 2018 9:16:07 AM

Read [past tense]: "Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence" by Patrick Sharkey.

Guarded optimism including even after the election that the state of heavy incarceration will go in a decline because of a broad coalition who believe for various reasons that it is wrong and/or unsustainable.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 16, 2018 9:42:41 AM

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