Generally, once a jury delivers a verdict and a judge delivers a sentence in a criminal trial, the case is over. In a federal criminal case, if an appeal of the sentence or conviction and post-conviction efforts are unsuccessful, a person is convicted of a crime, the sentence is intact and they are generally left without recourse unless changes in the sentencing law are made that apply retroactively by an act of Congress, the Supreme Court, or the United States Sentencing Commission. Even if the laws by which you were convicted change in the time you are serving your sentence, or sentencing laws become more lenient, you would still be stuck with the outcome of your criminal case and there is often little a judge could do to revisit the sentencing.
However, the Supreme Court has recently decided a case, the result of which can give judges far greater latitude to revisit and amend criminal sentences after the fact.
The First Step Act
The recent Supreme Court case involved a man already convicted and serving 19 years for possession of crack cocaine.
In the wake of the First Step Act signed into law by former President Trump, the defendant petitioned to have his sentence reduced due to changes in the laws since the time of his conviction that, if applied, would result in a more lenient sentence.
Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court agreed, granting the petitioner an opportunity for sentence reconsideration and opening a new opportunity for many imprisoned Americans to obtain reduced sentences.
President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act into law in 2018, allowing judges greater discretion in re-sentencing criminal cases when the laws have changes since the time of sentencing. The law focused on crack-cocaine sentencing in particular, which was uniquely disparate in its de facto treatment of people of different races.
How far should the First Step Act go?
The Court’s split decision went further than the law was intended to go, at least according to the dissenting opinions in the decision. They argue that ““The text of the First Step Act authorizes district courts to reduce sentences based only on changes to the crack-cocaine sentencing ranges, not based on other unrelated changes that have occurred since the original sentencing.”
At any rate, the Court applied the First Step Act and explicitly broadened the interpretation to allow judges to consider all types of laws that could have an impact on the sentence received, even if those laws do not directly impact the sentencing range of the crimes involved.
The gist of this decision is that it opens the door for criminal judges to consider a wide variety of changes to the law that could reduce someone’s sentence. This could mean that you get out of prison much earlier than expected.
If you have a loved one in prison and you think they might qualify for sentencing reconsideration under The First Step Act, call attorney Darryl A. Goldberg to discuss the matter.