7th Circuit rules man entitled to new hearing on crack-cocaine sentence

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a prisoner’s motion for a reduced sentence for distributing crack cocaine, finding that he is allowed to bring his petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255.

Anthony Bailey pleaded guilty in 2011 to distributing crack cocaine and agreed to a 240-month sentence. The agreement allowed for Bailey to seek a sentence modification if Congress or the Supreme Court later determined the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 should apply to cases like his. He committed his crime before the Act took effect but was sentenced after it was in place. When The Supreme Court of the United States decided Dorsey v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 231 (2012), holding that the FSA should apply to cases like Bailey’s, Bailey sought a reduced sentence. The District Court denied relief under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582(c)(2).

In United States of America v. Anthony Bailey, 13-3229, the judges decided that Bailey’s motion is best understood as a petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, the general post-conviction remedy for convicted federal prisoners, for a sentence that was imposed contrary to the law.

“Bailey was sentenced on the mistaken belief that federal law required a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. That view was certainly understandable. It was consistent with this circuit’s law at the time,” Judge David Hamilton wrote. “Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dorsey shows that was a mistake and that the statutory minimum was 10 years.”

“We acknowledge that the issue we decide is not the issue as the case was presented to the district court. It would be easy to find that Bailey had waived or forfeited reliance on §2255. Even so, in the interest of justice we have discretion to relieve Bailey from his forfeiture or waiver.

“This is an appropriate case to exercise that discretion. The procedural issues have been challenging for Bailey’s capable counsel, and both sides recognize that when they entered the plea agreement, they meant for Bailey to have an opportunity to benefit from the FSA if Dorsey were to be decided in his favor. We commend the government for its fair-minded approach to the case, for its focus on having Bailey’s sentence decided on the merits, and for its decision to forgo reliance on possible procedural obstacles to Bailey’s motion,” he wrote.

The judges ordered the District Court to hold a new sentencing hearing and expressed no opinion on what the appropriate sentence is in this case.


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