January News!

January 15, 2021

Case News, Committee News, Staff News, &

Legal Intern Update

 

 

Case News:

The passage of the First Step Act in December 2018 expanded compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1), allowing our clients to file compassionate release motions to reduce sentences based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons” directly with their sentencing courts. Through advocacy by the whole office, the district courts have joined the majority of courts across the nation that recognize the COVID-19 pandemic should inform the requisite analysis – either in terms of whether extraordinary and compelling reasons exist or, if a person qualifies for a sentence reduction, whether relief is warranted based on § 3553(a) factors. Together with members of the CJA panel, we have filed over 250 petitions under § 3582(c).

This month, another seven motions were granted; their stories follow:

 

After an 8-day jury trial, Mr. H was convicted of drug and firearm counts that carried a 10-year mandatory minimum. The verdict was heartbreaking for the entire defense team due to the severe penalty involved. That said, this trial inspired our district court’s decision to educate all future jury panels on the issue of implicit and unconscious bias—as the defense team for Mr. H, an African American, presented serious questions about racial disparity in our criminal justice system. At the sentencing hearing, District Court Judge Richard Jones said he felt “handcuffed” and questioned the prosecutor’s decision to pursue charges that carried a 10- year mandatory minimum sentence for a case that involved a relatively small amount of drugs. On January 19, 2021, the first work day after celebrating Martin Luther King Day, Mr. H was granted compassionate release after serving 68 months of a 120- month sentence. The judge noted that a “time served” sentence was sufficient while also considering Mr. H’s overall health and his risks of suffering from severe illness should he become infected with COVID-19. Mr. H will return to his family where he now can help his mother who too is suffering from serious health problem of her own and who needs all the family support that she can get. Mr. H’s defense team included Seattle paralegal Emily Ziel, Seattle investigator Deb Malcom, Seattle AFD Jesse Cantor, and former Seattle AFD Kyana Givens, who now works for the North Carolina FPD offices. Congrats to Mr. H and his entire defense team!

                                                                                                                                                   

Our client, Mr. G. was sentenced to 240 months on two counts relating to drug distribution. He filed a habeas petition, alleging IAC by his retained trial counsel. Former Tacoma AFD Linda Sullivan and Tacoma Research & Writing Specialist Alan Zarky represented him on the successful habeas petition. Mr. G was allowed to withdraw his plea and enter a new agreement to one count of possession with intent to deliver. Unfortunately, both times Judge Leighton found that Mr. G was a career offender, and both times Mr. G was sentenced to 240 months.

Mr. G, now 60 years old, obese, and with coronary artery disease filed a petition for compassionate release. He also argued that if he were to be resentenced today, he would no longer be considered a career offender, would get the benefit of the drug quantity table offense level reduction, and his range would be 135-168 months. The Court initially rejected his petition (it was probably not helpful that the record contained a transcript of the original sentencing, in which Judge Leighton called Mr. G “evil”), BUT he filed a motion for reconsideration (with big assist from Seattle AFD Vicki Lai) which the Court granted, and granted his petition for compassionate release, nearly 8 years before his release date. Mr. G. now has a plane ticket home after his 14-day quarantine. He’ll be spending his 60s with his brother and sister-in-law in southern California instead of BOP. Big shout out to Zarky and Tacoma paralegal Amy Strickling, emeritus thanks to Linda Sullivan for putting him in the best position for this CR with the habeas, and Tacoma paralegal Carolynn Cohn for her assist on the motion for reconsideration.

                                                                                                                                                           

On January 14, 2021, the Court granted compassionate release for my 81-year-old client who had served nearly half of a 30-year sentence that he had received for his involvement in a doomed investment scheme. Initially, the client’s claim seemed straightforward given his age, health conditions and exemplary prison record. But the case took a detour after BOP claimed that the client was no longer at risk of developing COVID-19 as he had already tested positive and recovered. The Court ultimately turned to U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13, Application Note 1(b) and concluded that the client should be released because he was experiencing a “serious deterioration in health due to the aging process.” In support of that ruling, the Court relied heavily upon the report of an independent medical doctor, Dr. Laurel Coleman, who reviewed the client’s BOP medical records along with collateral information to evaluate the client’s health and functional status.

The client is now living with his family in North Carolina. He called yesterday to offer some tearful thanks. I was grateful for his praise, but reminded him that we could never have won without the assistance of Dr. Coleman and the many CJA attorneys who helped along the way. It takes a village. Congrats to Mr. B and his attorney, CJA panel attorney, Todd Maybrown!

 

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Judge Robert J. Bryan granted CR for Thomas Dunigan (CR 05-5823 RJB), who was sentenced to 20 years by Judge Leighton in 2006 and was set for release in 1/23. Dunigan was part of a 6-person conspiracy in which the victim was tricked into attending a party, kidnapped, and fatally shot while trying to escape on JBLM property. Dunigan is obese and recovered from Covid-19 in 12/20. He did well in prison with school/jobs and was a mentor for inmate suicide prevention. RJB was swayed by Dunigan’s good prison behavior, and near-completion of his sentence. RJB had recently granted CR to defendant in an unrelated case with similar facts (Carson). RJB rejected our argument that 2nd Circuit law essentially disbands the USSG 1B1.13 analysis, but the issue was moot as he found Dunigan’s obesity was serious, and his having contracted Covid-19 did not disqualify him. It helped to have a sincere letter from Dunigan, referencing his regret and focusing on future plans. Congrats to Mr. Dunigan and CJA panel attorney Phil Brennan!

 

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Jeremy Carson was sentenced to 30-years imprisonment as a career offender in 2006. Seattle AFD Vicki Lai has represented Mr. Carson since 2016 after our office was appointed under Johnson v. United States. After a number heart-breaking losses along the way, and after having served 15 years with a blemish-free disciplinary record, he will be going home to his family after the court granted his renewed motion for compassionate release, stating among other things, that “[f]urther incarceration would serve no purpose for Defendant or the public.” In addition to AFD Lai, Tacoma investigator Michael Stortini and Seattle paralegal Suzie Strait are on Mr. Carson’s defense team.

Mr. Carson was asked to reflect on his compassionate release victory and said the following in a letter to his attorney: I know that I've said thank you several times now; but I am going to say it again. Thank you for the work that you put in; and thank you for genuinely caring about my future. Because of your thoughtful investments, you will forever be a part of my future. Even in the absence of communication. You are a great lawyer, and an awesome example to follow when it comes to how we should treat others.

 

                                                                                                                                                           

Mr. Williams was sentenced to 92 years in prison in 1995 at the age of 43, after pleading guilty to armed bank robbery, conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery and five counts of using a firearm in commission of a crime of violence. The case involved 56 bank robberies committed in four different jurisdictions over an eight-year period. Mr. Williams is now 70 years old and suffers from various health conditions. After Seattle AFD Vicki Lai presented his case to the AUSA and after many discussions, the AUSA agreed to concede to Mr. Williams’ release. A stipulated motion was filed asking for his release, and the same judge who sentenced Mr. Williams, granted it hours later. So, in the New Year, Mr. Williams will be leaving prison, after having been imprisoned for 26 years and believing he would die there. When told, he burst out in tears and expressed his eternal gratefulness to his defense team, which in addition to Vicki, includes Seattle AFD Annie Wagner, Seattle investigator Jennifer Davis, Seattle paralegals Michael Larson & Suzie Strait and social worker Daniel Potter-Engelskirger.

Mr. Williams had this to say about his CR news: On or about December 1, 2020, Vicki told me on the phone that after speaking with the Assistant US Attorney, that (they) would concede to not protest my release. I broke down in tears on the phone. In fact, I am crying at this moment as I remember that emotional point in time. A turning point in my life. A gift. My praises for Vicki as a genuine, kind and caring person, in addition to her abilities as an attorney almost sound inadequate in expressing the magnitude of what she did for me. There were so many moving parts that were involved in Vicki’s quest to get me released from prison. She had to coordinate with various departments i.e.: social services, for my housing, seeking financial aid, the probation department, etc. There was also the support staff, the paralegals and research staff who all assisted Vicki and thus, assisted me. I’m truly indebted to Vicki for saving me from a life in prison until my death.

 

                                                                                                                                                             

 

Committee News:

 

On January 15, 2021, in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, The Federal Public Defender Diversity Committee hosted a virtual event for the Seattle and Tacoma Offices. We gathered together to view Dr. King’s speech “The Other America” which he gave at Stanford University in 1967. Following the speech, we discussed the relevance of this speech in the context of today’s America.

 

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Staff News:

Please welcome the following undergrad, law student and social work interns that are working with us this Winter and Spring!

Undergrad Intern:

 

Legal Interns:

 

Social Work Intern:

 

Legal Intern Update:

Two former legal externs will be starting their careers as public defenders!

Claire Postman accepted an offer to join the Colorado Public Defender Office after she graduates this spring. Claire is excited to start her career in public defense and noted that her experience as a 1L summer intern helped her decide that the public defender career path was the right one for her!

Sam Welch has accepted an offer to join the Capital Habeas Unit at the Federal Community Defender’s Office in Philadelphia. Sam starts in early February and stated that he is ‘thrilled’ to begin working as a public defender at the Philly CHU.