By Dianne Frazee-Walker Debbie Baigrie was a stay-at-home mother of two. Ian Manuel was a lost 13-year-old boy raised in a dysfunctional environment, who had already been arrested 16 times. Baigrie is white and Manuel is black. Today Bairgie and Manuel share an unlikely close relationship with each other. July 27, 1990, Tampa, Florida, Baigrie…

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By Craig Coscarelli

In a vote that may not be historic but is still very important and a sign of the times, the US Sentencing Commission earlier yesterday voted to publish proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines which include an across-the-board reduction in the sentences recommended for all drug offenses. This official press release effectively summarizes and contextualizes this proposed amendment and others that were voted upon at the USSC’s public meeting:

The United States Sentencing Commission voted January 9, 2014 to publish proposed guideline amendments, including possible reductions to the sentencing guidelines levels for federal drug trafficking offenses. Another proposed amendment addressed implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

The bipartisan Commission voted to seek comment on a proposed amendment to lower by two [2] levels the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table across drug types in guideline § 2D1.1, which governs drug trafficking cases. Commission analysis indicates that such a change in the guidelines would result in a reduction of approximately 11 months for those drug trafficking offenders who would benefit, resulting in a reduction in the federal prison population of approximately 6,550 inmates by the fifth year after the change.

With this reduction, the sentencing guideline penalties for drug traffickers would remain consistent with pertinent drug trafficking statutes, including existing 5 and 10 year statutory mandatory minimum penalties, by structuring the Drug Quantity Table based on levels 24 and 30 (which correspond to a guideline range of 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively), rather than the existing levels of 26 and 32 (which correspond to 63 to 78 months and 121 to 151 months, respectively).

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By Dianne Frazee-Walker

“Courtney called out, ‘Mom, you promised you weren’t going to leave us no more,’ ” Ms. George recalled, her eyes glistening. “I still hear that voice to this day, and he’s a grown man.”

Stephanie George, serving a life sentence without parole in Louisiana for a minor drug infraction still recalls the heartbreaking pleas from her eldest of 3 sons, Courtney, then 8, in 1997.

Ms. George is one of a half a million people in the U.S. locked away in prison for non-violent drug crimes.   

When Ms. George was sentenced 15 years ago, her children were 5, 6 and 9. They have been raised by her sister, Wendy Evil, who says it was agonizing to take the children to see their mother in prison. They would fight over who gets to sit on their mother’s lap.

A lockbox, containing a half-kilogram of cocaine seized by police in Ms. George’s attic was sufficient evidence for Judge Vinson to be convinced of a crime severe enough for Ms. George to be separated from her children for the rest of her life. 

Judge Vinson, whose reputation is anything but libertarian, defends that a formula dictated by the amount of cocaine in the lockbox and her previous criminal record was what determined Ms. George’s sentence.

Ms. George and Judge Vinson had conflicting views about the cocaine filled lockbox stashed away in Ms. George’s home. Ms. George claimed the cocaine was hidden in the attic and she was not aware it was hidden in her house. She insisted her drug dealing boyfriend placed the cocaine in the lockbox and hid it in the attic. 

Originally, Ms. George and Judge Vinson did agree on the fairness of the sentence imposed by federal court because Ms. George was a known drug dealer and the cocaine was found in her house, even though her boyfriend was responsible for putting it there. The punishment for drug possession does not entail a life sentence.

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By Prison Law Blog

An overwhelming majority of prisoners serving life
sentences without parole for crimes committed as juveniles were exposed to
domestic violence and lived in poverty, while significant numbers failed in
school, were influenced by friends in trouble with the law and grew up in a
home missing at least one parent who was incarcerated, according to a report by
The Sentencing Project.

The report, based on the most comprehensive survey to
date of prisoners serving life sentences for crimes they committed as
juveniles, calls for the elimination of life without parole (LWOP) sentences
for juvenile offenders. The report also recommends a closer inspection of the
racial dynamics of the juvenile justice system, which imposes LWOP sentences on
black youths at an alarmingly higher rate than on white youths.

“Juveniles serving life sentences have had their
lives defined by a serious crime committed in their youth, but it is not a
complete picture of who they are,” wrote Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., a research
analyst for The Sentencing Project and the report’s author.

“Although it does not excuse their crimes,”
she added, “most people sent to prison for life as youth were failed by
systems that are intended to protect children.”

Researchers for The Sentencing Project collected data
from 1,579 juvenile lifers across the United States between October 2010 and
August 2011. The average time served by the prisoners surveyed was 15 years,
and almost a fourth had been incarcerated at least 21 years.

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By Tommy Walker

I. Peugh v. United States, (No. 12-62)(S. Ct. June 10, 2013)

Recently, the United States Supreme Court decided Peugh referenced above. At first blush it may not seem to have been a decision which would have significant impact with many defendants. However, upon closer review, the ramifications of Peugh are a lot more subtle, and therefore, Tommy Walker and his assistants have given us a more in-depth review. Peugh may also be the forerunner of the upcoming Alleyne case.

In Peugh, the United States Supreme Court held that sentencing a defendant under a version of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines that was promulgated after he committed his crime and increased the applicable range of the incarceration violates the Ex Post Facto Clause.

The Supreme Court defined the ex post facto clause as: (1) every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action; (2) every law that aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed; (3) every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed; and (4) every law that alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense, in order to convict the offender (slip opinion at page 7). (citing, Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall 386 (1793)).

At issue in Peugh was Calder’s third category of the ex post facto clause laws that “change the punishment, and inflict a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed”. (slip op., at 8). Peugh’s claim was that the ex post facto clause was violated because the 2009 Guidelines call for a greater punishment than annexed to bank fraud in 2000, when his crimes were committed. The Government on the other hand, claimed that because the mere punitive guidelines applied at Peugh’s sentencing were only advisory, there was no ex post facto issue. Id.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which lowered the threshold quantities of crack cocaine required to trigger mandatory minimum sentences, retroactively applies to all defendants sentenced for crack offenses prior to the law’s enactment. United States v. Blewett, No. 12-5226/5582, 2013 WL 2121945…

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