Mann Fights the Man on Unfair Crack Sentence - Criminal Law - U.S. Fourth Circuit
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Mann Fights the Man on Unfair Crack Sentence

Man, Mann. You're still fighting this case?

Robert Mann was convicted of crack and powder cocaine possession in 1998. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison, in large part because of the amount of crack involved.

We all know what happened next: The great crack reform brought forth by the Fair Sentencing Act.

Mann moved for a sentence reconsideration; the court eventually reconsidered and reduced the sentence. The Fourth Circuit nixed the reduction, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and vacated the Fourth's opinion. On remand, the Fourth again denied the sentence reduction.

Most people would have resigned themselves to their fate at that point, but Mann is a fighter. In 2011, the Sentencing Commission tweaked the crack formula once more, now requiring 8.4 kilos of rock before someone gets the level 38 sentence applied to Mann.

He went back to the lower court for a sequel, which in his case turned out far better than the original. The district court again granted a sentence reduction, this time to 162 months.

The government appealed ... to the Fourth Circuit ... again.

What is the crux of the convoluted dispute? The original level 38 sentence was based on the unfair crack standards and the powder cocaine possession. At the time, the judge first referred to the powder charge as crack, then corrected himself, then stated that the powder alone would suffice for the charge.

Ummm, so there was something, and then it was yeah, with the crack, and then powder and ummm... 21 YEARS!

The bottom line: There wasn't enough crack to justify the long sentence under the new standards. There also wasn't enough powder. We think. The record is cloudy.

So does Mann win?

Despite the judge's confusing statements at the original hearing, those statements were not supported by the evidence and the record. The judge, however, is granted the authority to interpret his earlier findings within reason.

There is one final issue to clear up. Because of the abbreviated nature of crack sentence reconsideration, should there be a full sentencing hearing?

The government wanted the judge to make additional findings regarding the amount of drugs to justify the higher sentence, 10 years after the original hearing.

The Fourth Circuit hasn't previously addressed this issue in a published opinion, but in concert with sister circuits, it found that the decision to make additional factual findings is within the court's discretion. Even in a case that's more than ten-years-cold.

After dozens of court battles, trips to the Fourth Circuit and SCOTUS, and more than a decade, the sentence reduction was finally affirmed.

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