Brown Law Blog

Why We Fight — Holiday Version

I get asked the question all the time. Why do you represent criminal defendants? Sometimes I ask myself. But this is why. I have sat in prison visiting booths with inmates serving life sentences whom I believed were innocent. I have stood side by side with guilty defendants who were better human beings than the…

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Harsh Federal Sentencing Tactics: Nothing New

A recent report by Human Rights Watch underscores an obvious fact of federal drug prosecutions: the Government uses the threat of sentencing enhancements to all but force criminal defendants to plead guilty. As a result, 97 percent of federal drug cases result in guilty pleas. By statute, criminal defendants receive extreme mandatory enhancements in some…

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Our Discriminatory Bail System

One of the great injustices of the Maryland state bail system is that it discriminates against the poor. People who are charged with crimes are often held on high bails that they cannot possibly afford. This can happen for even relatively minor criminal allegations. The only way they can get out is by paying a…

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Federal Marijuana Ruling in Maryand

The war on marijuana in the U.S. is waning. A recent Gallup poll reveals that more than half of Americans – 58% – agree that now is the time to legalize marijuana. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use for adults and, this past September, the DOJ declared that…

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2nd Degree Assault Not Violent for ACCA

Second degree assault in Maryland can no longer be counted as a crime of violence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), according to a Fourth Circuit opinion issued today by a unanimous panel, United States v. Thomas Royal. This ruling has been a long time in the making, but it is good to see that the issue has finally been laid to rest.

The bottom line is that far fewer people will be categorized as Armed Career Criminals, which saves these people from draconian 15-year mandatory sentences. In addition, the ruling is very likely to apply to career offender designations. We still do not know how this will play out for people who have already been sentenced to enhanced sentences based on a second-degree assault conviction. But rest assured we will be litigating this in the very near future. …

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Wins: Another Resentencing after 2255

Another client of the Firm was re-sentenced after a successful 2255 motion. In United States v. Randolph Wells, a federal district judge granted post-conviction relief to our client based on an erroneous calculation of his criminal history. The error was costly — it made Wells a “career offender” and subjected him to a sentence of 188 months.

In Wells’ motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, we argued that an old conviction for battery should not have counted as a predicate offense for purposes of a career offender designation. The judge agreed. After granted the 2255 motion, he called Wells back to court for re-sentencing. This time sentencing went better. Wells received a sentence reduction of 108 months. Congratulations Mr. Wells!…

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Firm Client Wins 7-Year Sentence Reduction

Today was a good day for one of our clients. After we won post-conviction relief for him — via 28 U.S.C. § 2255 — a federal Judge re-sentenced our client today, giving him back seven years of his life. In U.S. v. Gerome Young, the defendant had initially been sentenced as an Armed Career Criminal. This was because it was thought that he had three prior convictions that counted as Armed Career Criminal predicates. It was later discovered, however, that one of the convictions did not actually count. After the 2255 petition was granted, the Court agreed to re-sentence Young. Without an Armed Career Criminal designation, the sentence, by law, had to be significantly shorter.

Congratulations Mr. Young!…

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Firm Wins Coram Nobis for Immigration

The Firm won another coram nobis petition this week — this time for a Cuban immigrant who was facing collateral consequences from an old second-degree assault conviction in Baltimore City. This is the second consecutive coram nobis petition we have won in Baltimore City.

In this case, we argued that the old conviction should be thrown out because it was obtained in violation of our client’s Sixth Amendment right to be represented by a lawyer in a criminal trial. In fact, the Petitioner was forced to represent himself at a district court trial — even though he did not speak English and he was not familiar with our legal system. As a result of this conviction, he was subject to a removal order and he was unable to leave the U.S. to visit his family — for fear that if he left he would not be able to return.

How did we win it? …

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Holder Orders More Reasonable Drug Policies

This week U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a change in policy that could offer some benefit to people charged with federal drug crimes. Make no mistake, these are policy directives only and not federal law – and their impact is likely to be minimal. In fact, I’m not even sure that we will see a real change. Nonetheless, it is at least a start in reforming our unfair, arbitrary, expensive, and self-defeating federal drug laws. Here is what Holder said he would do:

* Direct US Attorneys to develop local strategies for determining “when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not.” This may mean that local prosecutors should use more discretion when deciding which cases to actually charge federally….

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A Cruel Decision by the BOP

One of the many difficulties of being incarcerated in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is that an inmate can be designated to a facility very far away from home. We have even had clients from Baltimore who were sent to California. Even though a federal judge can request a specific designation at sentencing, the decision of where to place an inmate is entirely up to the BOP.

A faraway designation is especially difficult on families, many of whom cannot afford the trip to visit a family member who is serving time. Considering air fare, rental car, and a hotel, a trip to an out-of-state prison can be expensive, particularly if the destination is in a remote area that is far from a major airport….

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An Increase in Federal Good Time Credit?

Every couple years, it seems, there is a new effort to implement a law that would allow federal inmates to earn more good-time credit, and thereby shorten their sentences. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, sponsored the latest effort, which was sent to the Judiciary Committee.

Under current law, a federal inmate receives up to 54 days off his sentence for good-time credit. This means BOP inmates serve about 85 percent of their actual sentences – a rate far higher than most state systems….

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Gun Cases Moving up to the Feds?

FEDERAL AND STATE GUN OFFENSES BALTIMORE, MARYLAND In Alston v. State, an unusual opinion that was 8 years in the making, the Maryland Court of Appeals (Chief Judge Bell) held, among other things, that a felon in possession of a handgun is not subject to the mandatory 5 years without parole — if the predicate conviction…

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2255 Win in Armed Career Criminal Case

FEDERAL DEFENSE MARYLAND / 2255 This past week the Firm won another 2255 Motion. In US v. Gerome Young, the defendant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. At sentencing he was determined to be an armed career criminal, based on three prior convictions for either a serious drug offense or…

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Federal Cuts To Slow Down Prosecutions

FEDERAL CRIMINAL DEFENSE MARYLAND It is still early in the budget crisis known as “sequestration.” But, it is expected that cuts to federal spending will directly affect the criminal justice system, particularly in federal district court. The word is, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will have a smaller budget, which means they will prosecute fewer cases….

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Firm Wins Coram Nobis in Baltimore City

Coram Nobis — Baltimore City Federal Criminal Defense Baltimore, Maryland The firm won a contested coram nobis proceeding in Baltimore City last week. Our client was facing federal prosecution as an Armed Career Criminal. This was because he had three previous convictions for either drug felonies, violent felonies, or a combination of both. As an…

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The NRA’s reach into federal judiciary nominations

FEDERAL GUN LAW In the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut, much has been made about gun control and the NRA’s obstinate role in the proliferation of firearms. But in recent weeks another concerning role of the NRA has come into focus. As Linda Greenhouse points out in the Times, the NRA has begun…

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Death Knell of Second Degree Assault as “Crime of Violence”

Federal Criminal Defense Baltimore, Maryland For years Maryland’s second degree assault statute has been a thorn in the side of criminal defendants. Although second degree assault may result from a non-violent incident, it is almost always used by federal prosecutors as a “crime of violence” to enhance federal sentences – often to extreme results. In…

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District Judge: 2nd Deg. Assault NOT a Crime of Violence

Federal Criminal Defense Baltimore, Maryland Judge Deborah Chasanow, a United States District Judge in the District of Maryland, has held that that a conviction under Maryland’s second-degree assault statute does not count as a crime of violence for purposes of a sentencing enhancement. In the case, United States v. Barrett Allen West, Judge Chasanow built upon…

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Federal Coram Nobis Granted, Removal Avoided

FEDERAL CRIMINAL DEFENSE BALTIMORE, MARYLAND In United States v. Akinsade (No. 09-7554), the Fourth Circuit took a rare step and granted coram nobis relief to a Nigerian immigrant convicted in federal court. Akinsade, who came to the U.S. legally as a child, worked as bank teller at Chevy Chase bank when he was a teenager. When he…

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Fourth Circuit finds child abuse statute does not qualify as predicate conviction for Guidelines sentencing enhancement; could have sweeping impact on second degree assault enhancements

Maryland Federal Criminal Defense In United States v. Gomez, (12-4089), the defendant, a citizen of El Salvador, was deported from the United States after pleading guilty to state child abuse charges. After reentering the U.S. without permission, the defendant was charged with illegal entry, and pleaded guilty in federal court. At sentencing, the government sought to…

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