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Federal Appeals Court Denies Defendant’s Appeal in Drug Case, Despite Argument Citing Fair Sentencing Act

On Behalf of | Jun 20, 2022 | Drug Crimes, Federal Criminal Cases

In a recent case coming out of a court that oversees the Commonwealth of Virginia, the defendant appealed his 219-month sentence based on drug convictions. On appeal, the defendant argued that a law passed in 2010 reduced the maximum sentence he could face for a conviction related to cocaine possession. The court looked at the law in question and ultimately disagreed with the defendant, denying his appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was convicted approximately ten years ago of participating in a 2009 drug conspiracy. In 2012, a trial court concluded that the defendant had dealt with powder and crack cocaine in the conspiracy, and he was sentenced to 219 months in prison as a result.

Two years prior to the conviction, in 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses nationwide. After its enactment, the government had to decide whether or not the Act applied to defendants who had been convicted before 2010 – that is, did defendants convicted of crack cocaine offenses qualify for lower sentences even if those convictions occurred prior to Congress’s passing of the Act? Congress decided in 2018 that yes, the Act would apply to pre-Act offenders who had not yet been sentenced when the Act became effective.

Here, the defendant committed his offense prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, but he was convicted and sentenced two years after the Act’s passage in 2012. On appeal, the defendant argued that he fit into the category of pre-Act offenders who should be able to use the Fair Sentencing Act as part of their defense – thus, said the defendant, his sentence should be reduced.

The Decision

The court explained in its opinion that just because the Fair Sentencing Act applied to individuals convicted at the time of the defendant did not mean that the defendant was eligible for a lower sentence. This is because of a technicality in the Act itself. The Act, said the court, reduces penalties for the quantity of cocaine base associated with the defendant’s offense. It did not, however, affect penalties for the possession of five kilograms or more cocaine powder, which is the crime to which the defendant pled guilty.

Because of this distinction between cocaine base and cocaine powder, the defendant was not actually eligible for a lower sentence under the Act. The court of appeals determined that the lower court had imposed a sentence that was already in accordance with the Fair Sentencing Act, because the Act did not actually change the range of penalties for someone convicted of the defendant’s specific crime.

Thus, the court denied the defendant’s appeal and his original sentence was kept in place.

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