The U.S. Sentencing Commission wisely made its 2011 reductions to the crack sentencing guidelines retroactive, but this decision left district judges with discretion to deny sentence-reduction requests based on, among other things, a defendant’s post-sentencing misconduct.
Larry Purnell has learned the scope of this discretion the hard way. Purnell pled guilty to crack and firearms offenses in 2007. In his plea colloquy, Purnell admitted to the gun allegations under oath. Based on various concessions from the government in return for his guilty plea, Purnell’s guidelines range for the crack offense was 78-97 months, and he received a sentence at the bottom of this range. Despite the relative lenience of this treatment, Purnell later mounted collateral attacks on the gun conviction, claiming that his alleged weapon was really only a BB gun — in contradiction to his own statements at the plea colloquy.
These collateral attacks failed, but Purnell was given a fresh opportunity for a sentence reduction thanks to the Commission’s retroactive changes to the crack guidelines. (more…)