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The First Step Act Fails to Provide the Relief It Promised to Drug Offenders Serving Unfair, Lengthy Sentences

Many had high hopes for the First Step Act, which promised to slash sentences for a number of nonviolent drug offenders. Perhaps most importantly, it would also retroactively apply the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to those who had been unfairly punished in terms of sentencing for crack cocaine offenses prior to 2010. And, for the most part, it has met its goal of reducing sentences for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders, especially those who were convicted and sentenced to decades in prison for crack cocaine offenses, which have disproportionately affected black men in particular.

However, due to the significant amount of discretion that the law has left up to judges, there are a number of inmates who have unfairly been denied the right to resentencing or release due to the arbitrary nature of how the law has been applied. These inmates are, unfortunately, left without much recourse, unless they are successful in obtaining an appeal with the assistance of a defense attorney, and that appeal is successful.

Initial Hurdles Are Challenging

As a result, a number have died in prison from the coronavirus after having their First Step Act applications denied due to the significant hurdles that exist. For example, the government initially contests a majority of First Step Act applications, and most District Court judges who make the initial decisions on these applications are former prosecutors. While appeals courts can in some circumstances release some inmates whose federal trial judges denied resentencing, it can also be a challenge to obtain an appeal in the first place, especially if you do not have access to a good defense attorney.

Obvious Confusion Over The Law Itself In The Courts

There has also been a significant amount of confusion over the ambiguities in the law in its first few years of interpretation in the courts. For example, one appeals court had to overturn a decision from a district court judge who incorrectly found that an inmate was ineligible for consideration under the First Step Act because he was found with too little crack cocaine in his possession, obviously indicating that the judge did not understand Congress’ intent in passing the law. Other factors that have also presented challenges to the courts have included figuring out whether behavior behind bars and other concurrent charges should be factored into the decision.

Judges Who Disagree With The First Step Act Have Significant Discretion To Deny Applications

Then there are judges who simply do not agree with Congress’ intent behind passing the First Step Act, and reflect this disagreement in their decisions. Take, for example, Chief Judge Danny C. Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky: Reeves has denied resentencing for crack cocaine offenders, compassionate release to especially vulnerable inmates, requests for early release for good time served, found that defendants who entered guilty pleas before the First Step Act was technically enacted were ineligible for its benefits; even if they were technically sentenced after it was signed into law, and even denied resentencing to inmates referred to him by the US Sentencing Commission as potentially eligible for sentence reductions. Inmates who are assigned to Judge Reeves simply do not have the same opportunity for consideration as inmates assigned to other judges.

If You Are Potentially Facing Drug Offense Charges, Contact Florida Defense Attorney William Wallshein

Still, having an attorney represent you in the process significantly increases your chances of success. If you are facing an investigation or charges for a drug offense, or have any questions about resentencing or release under the First Step Act, contact aggressive West Palm Beach drug offense attorney William Wallshein. With more than 38 years of experience representing defendants in these cases, and previous experience working as a prosecutor, he has the ability to put on the strongest defense possible for clients. Contact our office today for a free initial consultation.





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