Ex-U.S. Judge Winning Releases for Federal Inmates

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As a federal judge, John Gleeson sentenced carjacker Francois Holloway to 57 years behind bars. Nearly two decades later, he persuaded prosecutors to vacate part of the conviction and set Holloway free. Gleeson, who moved into private practice four years ago, is leading a fight in courts around the U.S. to use the 2018 First Step Act to open the door for thousands more inmates, says the Wall Street Journal. He is trying to correct what he regards as unjust sentences he imposed during his 22 years as a judge in Brooklyn, N.Y. For years, a federal law known as 924(c), resulted in decades-long prison terms for people convicted of certain crimes that included a gun. The law required judges to issue substantial mandatory sentences for multiple criminal counts and that each term be served consecutively.

As a result, some federal prison terms for bank robbery and carjacking added up to more than 100 years. About 94 percent of people convicted of multiple counts under section 924(c) in fiscal year 2016 were Black or Hispanic. Federal prosecutors, who have opposed every release request by Gleeson, say his interpretation of a law that allows release for “extraordinary and compelling” reasons is too broad and that some of these inmates could be too dangerous to set free. Gleeson and his colleague, Marisa Taney, contend that harsh mandatory sentences, since eliminated, are a valid reason for compassionate release. They have won eight cases in district courts, against five losses. They have nine active appeals. The pair helped win the release of 11 inmates of the more than 2,500 people who entered prison after being convicted of multiple counts of 924(c) since 2000. There are likely hundreds more who entered prison before 2000, Gleeson said.

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