Cases & Deals

Pro bono client's federal sentence reduced by several years

Clients Valentine, Jimmy Ray

In March 2011, Jones Day, serving as pro bono counsel, successfully obtained a nearly five-year sentence reduction for federal inmate Jimmy Ray Valentine, based on amendments to the United States Sentencing Guidelines for drug offenses. Under those amendments, the sentencing range for a defendant convicted of a drug offense may be lowered if the original sentencing judge held the defendant accountable for less than 4.5 kilograms of crack cocaine and if the court exercises its discretion to grant the reduction.

Mr. Valentine was convicted in 2000 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine. The sentencing judge sentenced him to the low end of the then-applicable sentencing range for drug offenses involving at least 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine. He appealed his conviction and sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and both were affirmed.

Jones Day's representation of Mr. Valentine began in 2005 with his habeas appeal to the Sixth Circuit, further challenging his conviction and sentence. In that appeal, Jones Day succeeded in obtaining a remand for an evidentiary hearing on an issue of ineffective assistance by trial counsel. Meanwhile, in 2008, the Sentencing Commission made its amendments to the drug guidelines apply retroactively to inmates already serving a sentence. Pursuant to those retroactive guidelines, Mr. Valentine, represented by Jones Day, moved to reduce his sentence. The government opposed the request, arguing that he was ineligible for a reduction.

After briefing by both parties in 2010, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, on March 2, 2011, granted Mr. Valentine's motion. As the court stated, Mr. Valentine's eligibility for a sentence reduction hinged on what the original sentencing judge had found with respect to drug quantity, and specifically whether the sentencing judge's 1.5-kilogram-threshold finding could be increased to a finding of 4.5 kilograms or higher. The court ruled that it could not. In reaching this conclusion, the judge disagreed with a recent decision by the chief judge of that court, which had found a defendant with a similar factual record ineligible for a sentence reduction.

In Mr. Valentine's case, having found him eligible for a reduction based on the original sentencing judge's findings, the court then exercised its discretion to grant the reduction to the lowest possible sentence in the new guideline range. The ruling reduces Mr. Valentine's approximately 24-year sentence (half of which he has already served) by 4 years and 9 months.

United States v. Valentine, No. 1:09-cr-1 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 2, 2011)

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