Articles Tagged with federal sentencing

Sam Bankman-Fried was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in defrauding users of the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX. While this sentence certainly seems harsh, and many commentators are stressing that the harm caused to investors was immense, several important federal sentencing statutes and programs will operate to significantly reduce the amount of time that Bankman-Fried actually spends in jail.

Under the First Step Act, Bankman-Fried will be able to receive “earned time credits” that will likely make him eligible for release from prison after serving 12.5 years. Under this act, inmates, like Bankman-Fried, who are convicted of qualifying fraud offenses and who complete “productive activities” can be eligible for pre-release custody (for example, home detention) at the halfway point of a sentence. The Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) encourages inmate participation in these “productive activities” because they reduce recidivism.

Additionally, federal inmates can earn a reduction in their sentence if they are eligible for and complete the “Residential Drug Abuse Program” or “RDAP.”  The RDAP program is the BOP’s most intensive treatment program in which inmates participate in half-day programming and half-day work, school, or vocational activities lasting nine months. If an inmate successfully completes the RDAP program, they can receive up to a one-year reduction of their prison sentence. In Bankman-Fried’s case, he would receive a one-year reduction of sentence if he completes the RDAP program.

On August 25, 2020 the Court of Appeals issued an important ruling regarding the modification of mandatory sentences for drug offenders who had entered into a guilty plea.  The Court unanimously ruled that the trial court does in fact have the authority to modify mandatory sentences given to certain drug offenders who entered into a guilty plea.  The Court went further and said these sentences may be modified even over the objection of the State.  The further concluded that these mandatory drug offense sentences may be modified by the trial court even in instances in which the defendant failed to file a timely motion to modify sentence.  This important decision will allow thousands of inmates the right to file a request to have their mandatory drug offense sentences be modified.  The attorneys at Silverman Thompson Slutkin and White have combined criminal experience of well over 100 years and include both a State Court of Appeals Judge and a former Federal Judge.  Our aggressive and experienced attorneys stand ready to file motions to modify mandatory sentences in any jurisdiction in the State.

Here is a synopsis of this important case:

In State v. Brown, Bottini, Wilson v. State-  decided August 24, 2020   The Court of Appeals addressed four questions of law concerning the application of the Justice Reinvestment Act which eliminated mandatory minimum sentences without the possibility of parole required by existing law for defendants who were convicted of certain drug offences and who were repeat offenders.  Further, the Act provided that a defendant could ask the trial court to reduce that sentence and provided the court with criteria which is now codified in Criminal Law Annotated Section 5-609.1.

When the federal Sentencing Guidelines were first implemented in the late 1980’s, federal judges quickly became frustrated with a new system that virtually tied their hands in terms of deciding an appropriate criminal sentence. Prior to the Guidelines, federal judges had wide discretion in imposing sentences on those who pled guilty or were convicted in federal court. The judges could take into consideration the full picture of the defendant – not only the crime he or she was charged with but also his or her family, background, education, and expression of remorse. The Guidelines dramatically changed that system, and set forth rather rigid – and mandatory — Guidelines. Whether the defendant had been accused of an intricate white collar financial fraud scheme, racketeering, drug distribution, or conspiracy to sell illegal weapons, the Guidelines left very few mechanisms for the judges to allow for any leniency or exceptions.

I remember when the Guidelines went into effect, my uncle, the late Norman P. Ramsey, Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, never missed an opportunity to express his frustration – whether on the bench or at a family gathering. Were my uncle still alive, he would now be thanking the Supreme Court, which three years ago swung the pendulum back toward the pre-Guideline days.

In Booker v. United States, 125 S.Ct. 738 (2005), the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are advisory provisions that recommend a particular sentencing range, rather than require it. Rather than simply impose a sentence within the recommended Guideline Range, a sentencing Judge must “consider the guideline range” but tailor the sentence in light of other statutory concerns as well,” particularly those set forth in 18 U.S.C. §3553(a). See Booker, 125 S.Ct. at 757. In the wake of Booker, the Fourth Circuit found plain error in a sentencing and remanded the case to the district court for re-sentencing, with the following instructions to the sentencing court:

Consistent with the remedial scheme set forth in Booker, a district court shall first calculate (after making the appropriate findings of fact) the range prescribed by the guidelines. Then, the court shall consider that range as well as other relevant factors set forth in the guidelines and those factors set forth in § 3553(a) before imposing the sentence. . . . If the court imposes a sentence outside the guideline range, it should explain its reasons for doing so.

United States v. Hughes, 2005 WL 147059, *3 (4th Cir. Jan. 24, 2005)(citations and footnote omitted). The Fourth Circuit noted that in light of the excision of § 3742(e) by the Supreme Court, it would affirm a sentence “as long as it is within the statutorily prescribed range . . . and is reasonable.” Id. (citations omitted).
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