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April 15, 2020

Two notable new § 3582(c)(1)(A) sentence reductions to remedy extreme stacked 924(c) sentences reformed by FIRST STEP Act

As long-time readers know, in the pre-COVID world, I made much of the FIRST STEP Act provision now allowing federal courts to directly reduce sentences under the (so-called compassionate release) statutory provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) without awaiting a motion by the Bureau of Prisons.  In our current COVID world, many more sentencing reduction motions are being brought by federal prisons based on the distinct health threat the virus poses.  As highlighted by posts here and here and here, I have lately been assembling some of the COVID-based sentence reduction rulings. 

As I reviewed on Westlaw today recent rulings, I was pleased two great new district court rulings using § 3582(c)(1)(A) as a means to undo the now-repealed harshness of severe stacking of mandatory minimum 924(c) counts.  Both rulings deserve to be read in full in order (a) to take in the ridiculousness and injustice of (post-trial) sentences that had to be imposed by judges under mandatory sentencing provisions, and (b) to appreciate how the FIRST STEP Act has help restore at least a little sanity and justice in this dark part of the federal sentencing world.

To begin, the first case in Westlaw appears as US v. Defendant, but I think is should be US v. Wade, No. 2:99-CR-00257-CAS, 2020 WL 1864906 (CD Cal. Apr. 13, 2020). Here is some of the backstory and parts of the analysis (with most cites removed):

In 1997, Wade was 34 years old and the single parent of three children working at a K-Mart in Los Angeles.  Knowing that Wade's employment gave her insights into the standard layout and operation of K-Mart stores, and that Wade was struggling financially, a “friend” (and future codefendant) approached Wade with the proposition that she help several other individuals rob K-Mart stores and share in the proceeds.  “Out of desperation” and “guaranteed that no one would get hurt” Wade accepted the proposition.  The ensuing five armed robberies were serious, but Wade's involvement was limited....In total, Wade and her co-defendants stole $189,998 from K-Mart. Wade never brandished a gun, and never entered any of the targeted K-Mart stores except the first one, where she worked and posed as a victim. No K-Mart employees reported any injuries.

On August 19, 1999, a jury found Wade guilty on all counts. Although she did not personally possess, use, or carry a firearm during any of the robberies, Wade was convicted on the § 924(c) counts as a coconspirator pursuant to Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640 (1946). On December 21, 1999, the Honorable Lourdes G. Baird sentenced Wade to 877 months (or 73 years and one month) of imprisonment, plus 36 months of supervised release. The vast majority of that prison sentence — 780 months (or 65 years) — resulted from the four “stacked” mandatory minimum consecutive sentences under § 924(c)....

Although it is clear that Wade's rehabilitation alone would not qualify her for a sentence reduction as a matter of law, see 18 U.S.C. § 994(t), the Court concludes that the combination of factors raised by her motion establishes extraordinary and compelling conditions that do.... A number of other district courts .... have also found that the drastic reduction in § 924(c) sentences with its elimination of stacking ... in combination with other circumstances may warrant a modification of the defendant's sentence.

In 1999, Wade received a mandatory-minimum sentence — one amounting to life in prison — that Congress has since determined to be exceedingly inhumane and profoundly unfair. But instead of dwelling on that injustice, Wade has spent the past 20-plus years serving her sentence as a recognized example to her peers, and as a model for what rehabilitative programming can achieve for incarcerated individuals who strive for self-improvement.

The backstory in the other case US v. McPherson, No. CR94-5708RJB, 2020 WL 1862596 (WD Wash. Apr. 14, 2020), is not fully developed and may not be quite so compelling.  But some of the court's language certainly is:

In October 1995, Defendant, age 57, was sentenced to 392 months (32.6 years) in prison upon convictions after jury trial... Defendant’s co-defendant Wilson was sentenced to 170 months (about 14 years) following pleas of guilty under the terms of a plea agreement....

In considering the government’s argument — that the non-retroactivity law in the First Step Act purposely left this defendant’s sentence in place — we need to look at all the laws, including 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), together.  Section 3582 (c )(1)(A) provides a safety valve against what otherwise would be a harsh, unjust, and unfair result stemming from a non-retroactivity clause.

So we have here Mr. McPherson, sentenced to over 32 years in prison for what is now probably a 17-year crime.  His sentence was 15 years beyond what is now deemed a fair penalty by our law, and he has already served 26 years of that now clearly unfair sentence.  It is extraordinary that a civilized society can allow this to happen to someone who, by all accounts, has long since learned his lesson.

Some (of many) prior related posts:

April 15, 2020 at 04:24 PM | Permalink

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