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January 25, 2019

Will the FIRST STEP Act's crack retroactivity provisions result in many reduced sentences beyond those serving mandatory-minimum terms?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by a notable "Order Reducing Sentence" entered earlier this week in US v. Tucker, No. 3:00-cr-00246-2 (S.D. Iowa, Jan. 23, 2019) (available for download below). A little background is need to explain the question and what seems especially notable about this Tucker order.

As many readers know, Section 404 of the enacted version of the FIRST STEP Act retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. I have assumed this section entailed only that (many) federal prisoners still serving crazy-long mandatory minimum sentences for crack offenses could get their sentences reduced.  I figured the retroactivity benefits would be confined to those serving crack mandatory-minimum terms, rather than guideline sentences, because the US Sentencing Commission had already reduced the crack guidelines and made those reduced guidelines retroactive.

But, interestingly, though Logan Tucker was convicted and sentenced in 2001 for a crack offense, his original sentence of of nearly 22 years (262 months) was driven not by a statutory mandatory minimum provision, but rather by the career-offender provisions of the (then mandatory) guidelines.  Though Tucker's sentence for a crack offense was driven by the guidelines rather than a statutory mandatory minimum provision, he was not previously eligible for a reduced sentence based on retroactive crack guideline reductions because of his career offender status. 

But now, thanks to the FIRST STEP Act, Tucker can benefit according to the analysis of US District Judge Robert Pratt.  Specifically, because Tucker was originally sentenced under a "covered offense" and also because the Fair Sentencing Act the lowered the statutory maximum he would have faced which, in turn, lowered his guideline level under the career-offender guideline, Judge Pratt concludes he can and should impose a reduced sentence for Tucker set at "188 months, the low end of the new Guidelines Range" (which, in turn, entails "a sentence reduction of seventy-four months, more than enough to warrant immediate release").

In addition to the notable outcome, I think it important and notable that federal prosecutors in this case conceded that the FIRST STEP Act authorized Judge Pratt to impose a reduced sentence (though they did urge Judge Pratt to exercise his discretion not to reduce Tucker's original sentence).  In other words, federal prosecutors in this case did not claim that FIRST STEP retroactivity benefits must be confined only to those serving crack mandatory-minimum terms, rather than guideline sentences.

So, in addition to spotlighting this interesting echo of the FIRST STEP Act's crack retroactivity provisions, I am eager to hear if lots of other courts are now considering sentence reductions for lots of other crack defendants whose terms are not directly tethered to crack mandatory-minimum terms.  I would guess that this kind of "career offender" situation may be most likely to arise, but perhaps there are other important ways in which persons sentenced to long crack terms who missed prior retroactivity opportunities now can benefit.

Download Tucker sentence reduction order 07712866067  

UPDATEIt dawned on me after I did this post that the high-profile case of Matthew Charles, who secured release just a few days after the enactment of the FIRST STEP Act, is another example of a defendant sentenced under the career offender guideline getting retroactive relief.  Thus this Tucker ruling is not itself ground-breaking, but it further highlights the sorts of folks now able to benefit from a key sentencing provision that was added to the original prison-reform-only version of FIRST STEP.

January 25, 2019 at 10:47 AM | Permalink


Will this have bearing on other drug charges, beyond crack cocaine, that have a career criminal enhancement? I am trying to wrap my head around what this will really look like.

Posted by: Kelly Halverson | Jan 29, 2019 6:01:06 PM

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