Assuming that a Supreme Court ruling in a federal sentencing case issued on Monday is retroactive, there could be thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, of federal prisoners with plausible claims to reduce their terms, says Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman on his blog, Sentencing Law and Policy. The court ruled in the case of Levon Dean, Jr., who was sentenced to 400 months in prison for two armed robberies in South Dakota. Dean contended that the sentence was too long, partly because he lacked “any significant history of any violence,” the court said.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a lower court wrongly decided that in calculating Dean’s sentence, the judge must ignore the fact that he must serve a 30-year mandatory minimum term on two charges, and must consider adding prison time for other charges against him in the robberies. Berman says that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than 1,100 federal defendants were convicted in fiscal year 2015 in a similar situation involving one charge carrying a mandatory minimum term and another that does not. The average sentence for that group was over 11 years in prison. Berman doubt that there will be thousands of resentencing requests, but he predicts “many more than just a handful.”