Legal Talk


June 10, 2013 by Adam Clausen in Legal Talk

Times they are a changing, and sentencing reform seems to be gaining some real momentum thanks to a number of very proactive, and quite provocative, federal judges. Obviously, the most notable case in recent legal news is the “Blewett” case out of the 6th Circuit. Despite nearly every other circuit ruling AGAINST the retroactive application of the “Fair Sentencing Act of 2010,” which finally amended the crack sentencing guidelines, the 6th Circuit opened up the door and invited everyone in. The last estimate I saw concerning the number of persons who might be affected by this ruling, should it stand, was around 6,500. Considering that the BOP currently houses nearly 220,000, inmates I don’t think that’s really that many. This relief is LONG overdue to all those persons and their loved ones who should have received the benefit of the FSA when it was initially passed. Let’s hope they finally get it this time around.

Since the Blewett ruling, everything I’ve read online warned against the inevitability of a government appeal that would likely result in the decision being overturned. However, all the guys I’ve spoken to out of that circuit (and there are a LOT of them here in Western PA) have either filed their own motions or been contacted by lawyers eager to file for them. One of the men I spoke to was assured by his attorney (who is a public defender) that his motion is going to be heard within the next couple of weeks and he expects it to be GRANTED. I hope for both his sake and for all of the other men I know who’ve already begun to dream about walking out the front gate on an immediate release (as it happened when the FSA was initially passed) that a disposition is reached quickly in this case. Of course, if any one of these guys gets a favorable reply from the district court I will be sure to put it out on the wire to all of you immediately.

In other Legal News…the Supreme Court should be issuing an opinion in the “Alleyne” case any day. It feels like the oral arguments in that case were MONTHS ago and I know many people have been eagerly awaiting the court’s pivotal ruling. Some of us have been waiting for over a decade now to have the “Harris” case overturned and it looks like it might finally happen. In my humble (but completely biased) opinion I believe that the ONLY reason the Supreme Court would even grant oral arguments in the Alleyne case was if they were already seriously considering making a landmark decision.

The Harris case and the Almendarez-Torres case are the only two cases that do not “fit” into the Apprendi line of Supreme Court legal reasoning and case law stretching back well over a decade. The Apprendi ruling, and all subsequent rulings in that line, ensure that all criminal charges against a defendant subject him/her to an enhanced penalty must be found by the JURY as opposed to the Judge. If the court now moves to eliminate Harris by way of granting Alleyne, the only precedent remaining out of line will be Almendarez-Torres, which governs the use of prior convictions as sentencing enhancements. Both rulings could have a beneficial impact on many appellants/prisoners so we are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling and anticipate the issuance of an opinion within the next week or two. It’s highly unusual for the Supreme Court to overturn one of their own precedents, but this court appears prepared to do so under the right circumstances. Let’s hope Alleyne is the right fit. We’ll keep you posted.

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