Justice Breyer Wrote Unanimous Opinion for the Court Upholding Crack Sentence of Prisoner POTUS Pardoned

December 19th, 2013

It’s a small world after all. One of the prisoners President Obama pardoned, Reynolds Allen Wintersmith Jr. (who happens to be a first cousin of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) had his sentence upheld unanimously for the Court by Justice Breyer in EDWARDS v. UNITED STATES (1998). (Edwards was his co-defendant).

Here is the holding from the syllabus:

Because the Guidelines instruct the judge in a case like this to determine both the amount and kind of controlled substances for which a defendant should be held accountable, and then to impose a sentence that varies depending upon those determinations, see, e.g., Witte v. United States , 515 U. S. 389, it is the judge who is required to determine whether the “controlled substances” at issue—and how much of them—consisted of cocaine, crack, or both. That is what the judge did in this case, and the jury’s beliefs about the conspiracy are irrelevant. This Court need not, and does not, consider the merits of petitioners’ claims that the drug statutes and the Constitution required the judge to assume that the jury convicted them of a conspiracy involving onlycocaine.

And guess who wrote the 7th Circuit opinion? Judge Easterbrook!

It is a really small world.

This is not quite as cool as when FDR pardoned the lead defendant in Carolene Products, but it works (btw, I am planning on FOIAing the pardon office to learn more about that pardon).

Update: Will Baude points out that one of the pardon recipients had his cert petition denied:

Also: Now that the full list of names is out, I see that one pardon receipient is Mr. Ezell Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert, Savage notes, will “be released immediately because he was recently out of prison for a time, without problems, during an appeal.” And what an appeal it was. Two years ago, Gilbert’s case divided the Eleventh Circuit in a series of opinions. First, an Eleventh Circuit panel concluded that Gilbert’s sentence could be corrected through habeas even though it had long been final, prompting Doug Berman to write that the court had “given[n] the ‘Great Writ’ some notable life.” The panel also ordered Gilbert to be immediately released.

The Eleventh Circuit met en banc, and in May 2011 it reversed the panel 8-3 and ordered Gilbert back into prison. Gilbert unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court for cert. If only the President had reached this decision two and a half years ago. At least he’ll be out for Christmas.