July 1, 2022 By Paul Wallin

Supreme Court Rules for Inmates Seeking Reduced Prison Sentences

What Is the First Step Act? 

In order to understand the Supreme Court ruling earlier this week regarding reduced prison sentences for inmates, it is first necessary to understand what the First Step Act is. In December of 2018, then-President Trump signed the First Step Act into law. The act was part of a bi-partisan effort to reform the criminal justice system and improve its outcomes. Its goal was to reduce the amount of people incarcerated in federal prisons while simultaneously implementing mechanisms to maintain public safety. 

The First Step Act included several reforms related to how sentencing would work. First, it changed the mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses. The Act increased the threshold for prior convictions that would count toward triggering higher mandatory minimums for repeat offenders. It also reduced the 20-year mandatory minimum to 15 years and reduced the lifetime mandatory minimum to 25 years. Second, it made the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses, retroactive. This meant that currently incarcerated offenders who received longer sentences for crack cocaine possession than they would have after the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act could submit a petition to have their sentences reduced. Finally, the First Step Act expanded the safety valve provision, which allowed courts to sentence low-level, non-violent drug offenders to less than the required mandatory minimum for an offense. 

Supreme Court Rules for Inmates Seeking Reduced Prison Sentences 

This past week, the Supreme Court made it easier for certain prison inmates to seek shorter sentences under the First Step Act. The case at hand involved Carlos Concepcion, who was serving a 19-year prison sentence after being convicted of possessing over five grams of crack cocaine with an intent to distribute. The length of his term was determined by his previous convictions, which labeled him as a career offender.

In 2019, Concepcion petitioned the court for a reduced sentence following the enactment of the First Step Act. He argued that the Act made him eligible for a shorter term. Additionally, he asserted that one of his earlier criminal convictions had been thrown out and others were no longer considered violent crimes under Supreme Court decisions that had been made while he was serving time. However, the judge rejected his petition for a reduced sentence. 

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices reversed, settling a disagreement among the nation’s appellate courts. The justices ruled in a 5-4 decision that trial judges may consider a wide range of factors in determining resentencing terms. These factors include those that are unrelated to the original crack cocaine offenses that resulted in the longer sentence, including good behavior and how the inmate would have been sentenced under current laws. The lower court in this case erred by declining to consider the intervening changes of law in support of Concepcion’s motion.

This Supreme Court decision comes at a time when criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing racial disparities in incarceration are coming to light. For cocaine-related crimes, prison terms have been disproportionately longer for people of color. Now, thousands of federal inmates serving time for drug offenses have a renewed hope of being released from prison or having their sentences shortened. Hopefully, this ruling is a step towards eliminating the racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system. 

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today 

If you or a loved one was sentenced to a lengthy jail sentence for a cocaine or drug offense, you may be eligible for a reduced prison term under this new ruling. For more information or help with your case, contact our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich is your best choice amongst Southern California criminal defense firms. Our attorneys have helped thousands of clients in a wide range of drug-related cases, and we have the skills and resources to secure the best outcome for you. 

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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