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November 8, 2022

How many federal LWOP sentences have been reduced via 3582(c)(1)(A) and on what grounds?

The question in the title of this post was prompted by a notable new ruling sent my way, US v. West, No. 06-21185 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 7, 2022), which grants a sentenced reduction motion for a prisoner serving a federal LWOP sentence.  Before discussing that opinion (which can be dowloaded below), I will note that Figure 2 of the USSC's latest Compassionate Release Data Report from September 2022 reports that 27.9% of the over 4000 prisoners who have had their 3582(c)(1)(A) motions granted were serving original sentences of "20 years or more."  In other words, since the First Step Act became law in December 2018, well over 1000 persons serving sentences of 20 or more years have received sentence reductions.  But, to my knowledge, the USSC has not provided further details with any data specifically regarding prisoners serving LWOP securing compassionate release or regarding the reasons judges commonly give when reducing LWOP sentences.

General numbers and broader trends aside, the ruling in West makes for an interesting read because the judge here decides that Apprendi error as well as unwarranted sentencing dispartity provided extraordinary and compelling reasons for a sentence reduction.  Here is how the West opinion gets started:

Roy West is in year 17 of a life without parole sentence.  The indictment and case submitted to the jury should have netted West not more than ten years in prison.

Errors on the part of competent people — prosecutors, defense counsel, probation officers and, ultimately, this judge at the time of sentencing — resulted in the imposition of a sentence in violation of the law on West.  Even skilled appellate counsel failed to raise the sentencing error.

West has no way to correct this extraordinary and compelling error — and end his days in prison — but through his now pending motion for sentence reduction (compassionate release).

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), as amended by the First Step Act of 2018, opens an avenue for this Judge to correct a fundamentally unfair sentence that did not exist before.  Justice and faith in our judicial system demand correction for the benefit of Roy West.

This human error on multiple levels, the resulting sentencing disparity, the absence of any other avenue for relief, and West’s extraordinary rehabilitation constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons for sentence reduction.  The 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors support a sentence reduction as well.

Download West CR opinion

November 8, 2022 at 01:51 PM | Permalink

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