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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Dale Chappell

Fifth Circuit Holds Prisoner May Sign and Deliver Habeas-Related Motion on Behalf of Fellow Prisoner Under Prison Mailbox Rule

by Dale Chappell

A prisoner may sign and deliver a habeas-related motion to prison officials for timely mailing under the “prison mailbox rule” on behalf of another prisoner, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held on January 12, 2018.

After the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied John Uranga’s habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his life sentence in state prison for possessing less than 4 grams of methamphetamine as a habitual felony offender—a fellow prisoner helping him with his petition signed Uranga’s name on his behalf and mailed a motion to “reconsider” the court’s judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). This was to ensure Uranga would meet the deadline for filing since the prison was on lockdown. The district court denied Uranga’s motion as untimely filed, and he appealed.

On appeal, there were several issues. The first issue was whether Uranga’s Rule 59(e) motion was timely filed to toll the time to appeal. The next issue was whether the motion was actually an improper “successive” habeas petition. The final issue was whether Uranga was entitled to relief on the actual claim ...

Ohio Supreme Court Holds State Cannot Prove ‘Bulk Amount’ of Fentanyl Under Statute

by Dale Chappell

Because no standard pharmaceutical reference manual specifies a maximum daily dose in the usual dose range for fentanyl, a defendant’s conviction for aggravated possession of a “bulk amount” of the drug could not stand, the Supreme Court of Ohio held January 4, 2018.

Mark Pountney was charged with multiple offenses, including possession of 10 three-day transversal fentanyl patches, and the State sought an enhanced felony level of aggravated possession based on the amount of the drug involved. That is, the State argued that he possessed a “bulk amount” of fentanyl, a second-degree felony given the amount of the drug in his possession.

After a bench trial on the fentanyl charge, Pountney was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to the other counts. He appealed.

On appeal, Poultney argued that the State failed to present sufficient evidence that he had possessed at least five times the “bulk amount” of fentanyl under R.C. 2925.01(D)(1)(d), which is a second-degree felony under R.C. 2925.11(C)(1)(c). The court of appeals agreed and reduced his conviction to a fifth-degree felony. The State appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ...

Arizona Supreme Court: Trial Court Must Tell Jury Defendant Ineligible for Parole in Death Penalty Phase

by Dale Chappell

The trial court erred by failing to tell the jury that a defendant was ineligible for parole before its decision to impose the death penalty, the Supreme Court of Arizona held November 6, 2017.

A jury found Jasper Rushing guilty of killing his cellmate at the Lewis Prison Complex in September 2010. The evidence showed Rushing “smashed in” his cellmate’s face, cut his throat, and severed his penis before he told guards, “I think I just killed my cellie.” He was charged with premeditated first-degree murder, and the State sought the death penalty. The jury found Rushing guilty of murdering his cellmate in an “especially heinous or depraved manner,” an aggravating factor under Arizona law to allow the death penalty.

On appeal, one of Rushing’s arguments was that the trial court violated his constitutional rights by refusing to instruct the jury during the penalty phase that he was ineligible for parole because his crime was committed after January 1, 1994, making him ineligible for parole under Arizona law.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994), that when a jury is determining whether to impose the death ...

Innocence be Damned: Prosecutors Who Disregard Justice in Push to Win at Any Cost

by Dale Chappell

The prosecutor’s goal “is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done,” the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78 (1935). Some prosecutors, however, are clearly not guided by the high court’s admonition; on the contrary, they believe that their job is to win—at any cost.

Over the last 25 years, more than 2,150 prisoners have been proven innocent. Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld’s Innocence Project has freed more than 200 of them since its creation in 1992, while other organizations spawned from their project have freed many others wrongfully imprisoned.

Inexplicably, some prosecutors fight to keep even those proven factually innocent behind bars. These prosecutors do not merely delay justice; they actively work against it. When a prisoner is exonerated by a court, these prosecutors file appeal after appeal, or indict the exoneree all over again, instead of trying to find the actual perpetrator.

When Davontae Sanford was 14 years old, he confessed after a late-night interrogation to murdering four people in a Detroit drug house. Sanford said he was told by cops that he could go home if he gave them ...

D.C. Circuit Vacates Sentence Because Government Breached Plea Agreement by Providing Defendant’s Confidential Statements to Sentencing Court

by Dale Chappell

The government’s use of incriminating statements made by a defendant at a confidential debriefing breached the plea agreement and constituted “plain error” when the government disclosed that information to the sentencing court to push for a longer sentence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held.

Kamal King-Gore was arrested on June 10, 2010, for selling 60.6 grams of cocaine base to a confidential informant. After being indicted, he met with prosecutors in a voluntary, off-the-record debriefing. In a written agreement, prosecutors promised that “no statements made by or other information provided by” him would “be used directly against [him] in any criminal proceeding.”

He subsequently pleaded guilty. At sentencing, despite its promise not use any statements or information obtained during the debriefing, the government told the sentencing court that King-Gore was a major drug “wholesaler” responsible for more drugs than the court knew. The term “wholesaler” was used by King-Gore during the debriefing to describe himself. The court sentenced King-Gore to well above the mandatory minimum sentence.

He appealed the government’s breach of the agreement. On appeal, the government admitted it breached the agreement, but argued that it did not ...

Drug-Induced Homicide Laws Hurt Rather Than Help Opioid Overdose Crisis

by Dale Chappell

Lawmakers and prosecutors just don’t get it. Instead of treatment and prevention of opioid overdoses, lawmakers and prosecutors are pushing for more convictions under draconian drug-induced homicide laws in response to America’s deadly crisis. They claim it is to “send a strong message” to drug dealers.

In reality, the only “message” being heard, however, is not to call 911, lest you get charged in the death under the drug-induced homicide laws. Rather than targeting the major drug distributors as the laws were intended, prosecutors often charge friends and lovers of the victim, according to Health in Justice, an organization that opposes “criminalization of health and social problems” and tracks punitive drug policies. “Fewer than half of the cases we analyzed involved a traditional buyer/seller relationship,” noted Leo Beletsky, lead investigator at Health in Justice and associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University.

“Drug-induced homicide is couched as a way to respond to the overdose crisis, but prosecutors are not held accountable for proving whether these laws are effective,” said Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit. “There is not a shred of evidence that ...

U.S. Supreme Court Holds Residual Clause Definition of ‘Crime of Violence’ Unconstitutionally Vague Under Due Process Clause

by Dale Chappell

The U.S. Supreme Court struck yet another residual clause definition of “crime of violence” as unconstitutionally vague in a major decision that could potentially affect thousands of prisoners serving longer prison sentences for a conviction falling under this type of clause.

When the Government sought to deport James Dimaya after his second California burglary conviction, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) determined that his first-degree burglary conviction was a “crime of violence” under the “substantial risk of the use of force” clause and therefore an “aggravated felony,” requiring his deportation pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”).

The INA requires that any alien convicted of an “aggravated felony” must be deported. This includes a conviction for a “crime of violence,” as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 16. The statute’s definition of “crime of violence” is divided into two parts that are commonly known as the elements clause in § 16(a) and the residual clause in § 16(b), which was at issue in the present case.

The statute’s two parts cover: (a) an offense that has an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the ...

Iowa Supreme Court Announces Indecent Exposure Statute Does Not Apply to Still Images of Genitals

by Dale Chappell

Interpreting the word ‘exposes’ in Iowa’s indecent exposure statute, the Supreme Court of Iowa held on February 2, 2018 that texting an image of one’s genitals to another does not constitute “indecent exposure” and that counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence ...

Mississippi Supreme Court Reverses Conviction Ruling; State Failed to Prove ‘Constructive Possession’ of Marijuana

by Dale Chappell

The State failed to prove that packages of marijuana hidden in a car truck were in the “constructive possession” of a passenger, who was unaware they were there especially when the driver claimed ownership, the Supreme Court of Mississippi held October 12, 2017.

Marvin Carver and his ...

Sentencing Court’s Grant of Prior Custody Credit was Not ‘Clear Error’ to Allow for Removal

by Dale Chappell

The government’s “eleventh hour” motion to “correct” a sentence to remove credit for time served in a related case before federal sentencing was improperly granted by the district court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held November 16, 2017.

When Derrick Smothers, Terrell ...


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