Monday, January 08, 2018

Harsh result for drug offender who missed FSA reduction in mandatory minimum by a single day

The Sixth Circuit today rejected a drug offender's attempt to get relief under the Fair Sentencing Act's reduction in mandatory minimums.

On August 2, 2010, Eugene Downs had a sentencing hearing at which the district judge announced a 10-year sentence, the mandatory minimum for distributing more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. The very next day, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, halving this mandatory minimum to just 5 years, effective August 3. The district court entered its judgment on the docket 13 days later.

All of Downs's codefendants received the benefit of the Act because their sentencings happened later.

Downs moved to vacate his sentence, arguing that he wasn't "sentenced" until entry of the judgment. Unfortunately, however, federal law essentially uniformly recognizes that a district judge’s announcement of a sentence in open court is the official "date of sentencing." So, says the Sixth Circuit, Downs is out of luck – stuck with a 10 year sentence.

Downs tried to argue that his lawyer was ineffective for not seeking a continuance or seeking reconsideration. But the court reasoned that counsel couldn't be deemed ineffective for failing to foresee that the Act would apply retroactively to crimes committed before its effective date. And, the court reasoned, a motion to reconsider would've been futile.

As William Gaddis wrote: "Justice? You get justice in the next world. In this one you have the law."

Read the opinion here.

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