In December 2018, President Trump signed the First Step Act into law with the goal of improving criminal justice outcomes, reducing the size of the prison population, and building mechanisms that would also make sure to maintain public safety. The Act represents the culmination of years of bi-partisan pressure for criminal justice reform. In practice, the Act allows certain inmates to be released from prison earlier than anticipated, depending on the nature of their offense and the Act’s published Sentencing Guidelines.
One result of the First Step Act is that it makes it easier for criminal defendants convicted of possession of crack cocaine to serve shorter sentences. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which had major implications for defendants charged with possession of cocaine – that is, while it used to be the case that people faced much longer sentences for possessing crack cocaine than for possessing the same amount of powder cocaine, today, the difference in the sentences is much smaller.
Once it is determined that a defendant’s offense is one that is covered by the First Step Act, a court is free to recalculate the defendant’s sentence. The First Step Act and the Fair Sentencing Act can allow a court to significantly reduce the amount of time a defendant must stay incarcerated.
The Facts of the Case and The Decision
In a recent opinion, an appellate court in Virginia decided that a criminal defendant charged with drug trafficking was not eligible for a lower sentence, even after analyzing his case through the lens of the First Step Act. The defendant in this case was involved in a cocaine conspiracy for approximately seven years. He was found guilty of acting as manager of the conspiracy, possessing a firearm in connection with the drug trafficking, and distributing cocaine to juveniles.
The court declined to lower the defendant’s sentence, even though drug trafficking is an offense covered by the First Step Act. The court started its analysis by noting that the defendant’s sentences were below the new maximum penalties set up by the Act and towards the bottom of the range presented in the Sentencing Guidelines. What’s more, the court said, the seriousness of the offense and the need to protect the public were factors in the decision to not ultimately reduce the defendant’s sentence. Because it was not in the public’s best interest to reduce the sentence, the court declined to use their power to allow this defendant to be released earlier than anticipated.
Have You or a Loved One Been Unfairly Sentenced in Virginia?
There may be ways the First Step Act can help you or your loved one get released from prison earlier than expected. If you would like to examine your options, it is of the utmost importance that you have a qualified Virginia criminal defense lawyer on your side. At Robinson Law, PLLC, we are ready to use the tools at our disposal to review your case and fight for justice on your behalf. You are not alone, and we are ready to stand alongside you. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 703-542-4008.