A One-Day Federal Prison Sentence on a Drug Conspiracy

For the first time ever I had something good happen in federal court at a sentencing hearing. I’m not talking about getting the best lousy outcome available (like the judge imposing a mandatory minimum but not going higher), but a legitimately good outcome.

Client was charged in drug conspiracy. He was picking up packages from the post office and delivering them to a local guy. The net weight of the drugs in those packages was significant which meant the guidelines for his sentence was also significant.

I made a decent argument for a minimal participant reduction. I also argued that net weight was a poor proxy for culpability for a low level guy who had no control over, or even awareness of, how much was in each package. He was just a courier assuming an enormous risk while being paid a pittance. I focused on the tragic circumstances that led a guy with no criminal record to participate in something like this. His poverty and desperation were on full display when he spoke on the phone, unaware that the calls were being recorded by federal agents. I also addressed his significant responsibilities as a primary caretaker for family members including a 3 month old son. He had been released at his initial appearance (which is really rare in federal court for people charged in drug conspiracies) and had been exemplary on release: working, taking care of his family, reporting to his pre-trial services officer as required, and passing all drug screens.

The judge did not have the authority to impose straight probation on a charge like this. There had to be a period of custody. In my sentencing memorandum I asked for a sentence of one day – deemed served – followed by the minimum required period of supervised release.

So the hearing was about to begin. My client kissed his wife and baby and walked into the bar enclosure. There were marshals in the courtroom which signaled that he would be going into their custody. But the discussion during the hearing was positive. Judge had a lot of questions for the prosecutor about the evidence and she reported accurately and fairly. Client’s wife was quietly weeping and baby was thankfully asleep.

And then the judge imposed the sentence. Time served. This amounted to a 1 day sentence for the night my client spent in custody after his arrest until he was released from court on his initial appearance. I walked my client out the courtroom to the probation department. Not long later he left the courthouse pushing the baby stroller.

Just to be clear, federal court remains an awful place. Draconian sentences are the norm; this was an exception. But I’m happy.