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New Law Allowing Reduction in Drug Sentences

May 4, 2019

For years our New York City Criminal defense attorneys have known that the federal drug laws have draconian and excessive sentences. If a loved one is serving a long Federal sentence for a drug crime involving crack cocaine in New York, a new law may help get them out sooner. On April 22, 2019 a federal judge in Brooklyn became one of the first in the country on to use a new federal law to order the immediate release of a man who served more than a decade in prison for his role in a drug trafficking conspiracy. In this case, Cheyenne Simons, the defendant, faced various charges related to distributing crack cocaine, had served more than 11 years of his 12-year prison sentence when the decision was handed down. Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein wrote that should be released immediately because of a new federal law that retroactively reduced the sentencing requirements for charges he had pleaded guilty to in 2008.

Weinstein’s opinion was based on two different federal laws, one of which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last year. That law, known as the First Step Act, included several different provisions related to criminal justice reform, many of which were irrelevant in this case. The section that applied to Simons actually referred back to a different federal law enacted in 2010 called the Fair Sentencing Act. That legislation essentially lowered the statutory penalties for offenses involving crack cocaine, reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The sentencing ratio between the two forms of the drug was previously 100 to 1 but was reduced to 18 to 1 under the law.

But until last year, defendants sentenced before the Fair Sentencing Act were not able to ask the court for a reduced sentence that would reflect the new federal scheme. The First Step Act changed that by allowing defendants to move for their sentence to be changed retroactively based on the new formulas enacted under the Fair Sentencing Act.

Simons, based on the charges he pleaded guilty to, faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison when he was sentenced in 2009. Under the new formula, which can now be referred to retroactively because of the First Step Act, his mandatory minimum sentence is eligible to be reduced to five years in prison. Simons has already served that time, so Weinstein ordered his immediate release and sentenced him to time served.

Federal prosecutors had argued that the First Step Act did not make Simons eligible for a reduced sentence or immediate release. They wrote in a filing last month that the charges Simons pleaded guilty to were still eligible for his full 12-year sentence and argued that Weinstein could not reduce his time in prison. Weinstein stated that, during his time in prison, Simons had taken significant steps toward rehabilitation, including obtaining his GED and completing several vocational and educational courses. He also has a job lined up for after his release. Requiring him, and others, to spend more time in prison would not contribute to public safety but could instead lead to recidivism among defendants. After serving more than 136 months of his 144-month original sentence, Simons is now eligible for immediate release. While this decision does not substantially shorten his sentence, justice favors freedom over unnecessary incarceration. Every day of imprisonment that can be appropriately shortened in a case like this should be.

Our New York Trial Attorney’s agree that public safety is not served by a defendant spending more time in prison than necessary. An overly harsh sentence may prove counterproductive, increasing a defendant’s likelihood to become recidivist. If you have a loved one serving a lengthy sentence for crack cocaine our Manhattan Federal Criminal defense attorneys may be able to file a motion for a retroactive reduction in their sentence.

 
The Law Offices of Michael H. Joseph