Inmates across the U.S. are taking legal action to try to win early release under new federal cocaine sentencing guidelines, including filing suit when their requests are denied, the Washington Post reported Jan. 1.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission last year retroactively cut the range of prison terms for crack-cocaine offenses to bring them in line with penalties for powdered-cocaine related offenses. That has led thousands of inmates imprisoned on crack-related charges to petition federal judges for reduced sentences.
Appeals must be heard on an individual basis, and challenges by prosecutors can result in lengthy legal battles. “Justice isn’t easy and justice isn’t always about the simplest and most efficient solution, and sometimes it requires getting down in the dirt, and that is what we are doing in these cases now,” said Michael S. Nachmanoff, federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia.
In Nachmanoff’s district and Maryland, judges have granted 800 requests for sentence reductions but rejected 490. Judges must consider the particulars of the original crime but also take into consideration such intangibles as behavior in prison and expressions of remorse. The Sentencing Commission said that nationally, judges have cut sentences an average of two years for about 12,000 crack offenders since last March.
“There are no generic cases, and these aren’t widgets,” said Gretchen C.F. Shappert, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. “They present complicated issues, and each one is different.”
“We want to make sure that dangerous people are not being released too soon,” added John P. Mannarino, acting chief of the special proceedings division of the U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia. “We want to make sure that the reductions are appropriate.”