U.S. v. Lee and Reduced Sentencing Under the Fair Sentencing Act

The long-lamented disparity between the prison sentences for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine was the catalyst behind the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010.balance.jpg

Since then, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys are aware of a number of cases in which these new guidelines – which can cut a sentence in half – have been applied retroactively.

One such case was U.S. v. Lee, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in North Dakota.

While this case occurred out-of-state, it’s relevant for those facing criminal charges in Florida because the Fair Sentencing Act is federal legislation that is applicable to those in all 50 states.

In this case, eight defendants were arrested on fourteen counts, following their indictment for their alleged roles in a drug trafficking ring that involved the sale of crack cocaine. Two of those defendants were responsible for purchase and resale, while the other supplied security and collected money.

Following a 13-day trial in May 2010, each was convicted. Prosecutors produced testimony from law enforcement officers, co-conspirators, drug analysts, confidential informants and others who had reportedly purchased drugs from those within the operation.

In the interim between the conviction and the sentencing, which was on August 31, 2010, the Fair Sentencing Guidelines was passed. However, the district court ruled that the federal legislation could not be applied retroactively, and thus, the three defendants in question were sentenced under the old crack cocaine sentencing guidelines. One received a 10-year term, the second a 45-year term and the third a life sentence. The last of those was deemed a career criminal, having had two prior felony convictions.

All three appealed, based chiefly on the premise that there had not been sufficient evidence to convict them on certain counts, but also that the Fair Sentencing Act should apply retroactively.

The appellate court ruled that despite arguments that some of the key witnesses in the trial were admitted liars, drug dealers, thieves and drug users who had struck deals with prosecutors to testify in exchange for lesser sentences on their own charges, it was up to the jury whether to believe that testimony. Sufficient evidence was present in these cases to convict.

The district court denied requests for new trials, and allowed the convictions to stand.

However, the appellate panel went on to weigh whether the court had improperly deemed that the Fair Sentencing Act was not retroactive. The court first ruled that it was not an issue for the defendant who had received the 10-year-term, as the amount he was charged with selling did not meet the criteria to boost his sentence any higher than if he had simply been selling powder cocaine.

However, with regard to the other two, the appellate court found that the district court erred in sentencing the latter two defendants according to the previous guidelines.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court had made this clear in its ruling of Dorsey v. United States. In that ruling, U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled that the more lenient sentencing provisions set forth by the Fair Sentencing Act are applicable to those, “who committed a crack cocaine crime before Aug. 3, 2010, but were not sentenced until Aug. 3.”

In the end, the latter two sentences were vacated by the appellate court, and the two defendants were granted hearings for resentencing.

Those who meet this criteria in Florida should seek legal representation as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
U.S. v. Lee, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, North Dakota, Justia Case Files

More Blog Entries:
Robinson v. State of Florida: Death Sentence Vacated for Insufficient Counsel, Aug. 12, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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