Federal Prisoner Weekly Newsletter July 28

Here’s rundown of some favorable decisions for the week.

United States v. Evans, No. 22-1195, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 18810 (7th Cir. July 24, 2023)

Evans twice sold heroin to a confidential source (50 grams, 125 grams). Officers stopped Evans 30 minutes later and found cash from the controlled purchase, methamphetamine, two handguns, and ammunition. He was charged with two drug distribution counts, 21 U.S.C. § 841, and two firearm counts, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and 922(g)(1). Following conflicts with Evans’s first two lawyers, Sarm was appointed to represent Evans. After Evans withdrew a plea, prosecutors added another § 924(c) count (typical vindictive prosecution!).

At trial, Sarm only subjected four of 11 witnesses to meaningful cross-examination and rested without presenting any evidence or calling any defense witnesses. Convicted, Evans was sentenced to 788 months; 50 years came from the § 924(c) convictions, each of which carried mandatory minimum, consecutive sentences of 25 years because Evans had a prior qualifying 924(c) conviction. Nineteen days after the trial, Sarm overdosed on heroin. The district court appointed new counsel but, without a hearing, denied a motion for a new trial.

The Seventh Circuit vacated. Evans made a single choice to possess a firearm over a continuous 30-minute span that included a sale of heroin and the police finding methamphetamine and a gun in his car. The facts support one § 924(c) conviction, not two. Evans faced serious charges with serious sentencing consequences; his appointed counsel had never tried a federal criminal case and was using heroin before, during, and after trial. Evans was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his motion for a new trial.


United States v. Miller, No. 21-4367, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 18589 (4th Cir. July 21, 2023)

Defendant appealed his conviction for two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He contends that his guilty plea was invalid and that his sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable.
The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court did not plainly err when it accepted Defendant’s guilty plea. However, the court vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing based on the Government’s concession that Defendant should not have received two criminal history points for being on probation. The court rejected Defendant’s other contentions of sentencing error. The court explained that the district court did not err in accepting Defendant’s guilty plea, in applying the U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) enhancement at sentencing, in finding that Defendant’s state conviction supported a base offense level of twenty under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(4)(A), or in making certain factual findings at sentencing.


United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit United States v. Bell, No. 21-51062, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 19381 (5th Cir. July 27, 2023)

Bell filed a timely notice of appeal of the denial of his compassionate release motion, asserting that the district court abused its discretion by failing to adequately explain its decision denying his motion for compassionate release. According to Bell, the court’s blanket denial failed to reference the specific § 3553(a) factors on which the court relied, and he also maintains that the § 3553(a) factors in fact weigh in his favor.

When the district court articulates its reasoning for denying a motion for compassionate release via a perfunctory sentence referencing the parties’ filings, the § 3553(a) factors, and the Sentencing Commission’s policy statements, we have remanded for the district court to explain its reasons for denial. We follow the same course here and remand for the limited purpose of allowing the district court to explain its reasoning.


United States v. Grady, No. 22-6693, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 18937 (4th Cir. July 25, 2023)

Here, the district court determined that the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors did not warrant relief. In doing so, the district court described only Grady’s offense conduct and criminal history. As Grady observes, the district court did not acknowledge or address his postsentencing mitigation arguments, including his evidence of the various rehabilitative efforts he has undertaken while incarcerated. The court’s failure to acknowledge this evidence does not by itself establish that the district court failed to consider that argument, at least implicitly, in weighing the § 3553(a) factors. But we also have explained that, where a defendant presents a significant amount of post-sentencing mitigation evidence, the court must engage in a more robust and detailed explanation that permits meaningful appellate review of the court’s reasons for rejecting that mitigation evidence. Vacated and Remanded.

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