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Federal judge will reconsider sentence

Erroneous information provided and repeated

By: Bennett Loudon//June 5, 2018

Federal judge will reconsider sentence

Erroneous information provided and repeated

By: Bennett Loudon//June 5, 2018//

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A Second Circuit panel has sent a case back to U.S. District Court Judge Charles J. Siragusa to reconsider his decision to deny a defendant’s motion for a reduced sentence.

The case was complicated by the probation department’s incorrect calculation of the potential sentencing range, which was provided to Siragusa and repeated by both the prosecution and defense in subsequent court filings.

It’s not clear whether Siragusa’s decision to deny the motion was based on the miscalculation, but the Second Circuit’s decision suggests he likely relied on the erroneous information and may have ruled differently if he had accurate information.

The defendant, Daren Brooks, was charged in Elmira, Chemung County, with possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute in November 2009 and pleaded guilty in October 2012.

Under the 2008 guidelines, Brooks faced a potential maximum sentence of 27 years and three months in prison, but Siragusa sentenced him to 25 years in prison, plus eight years of supervised release and a $2,000 fine.

In 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission amended the sentencing guidelines and made the new guidelines retroactive. Under the amended guidelines, the maximum penalty for Brooks would be 17 ½ years — 7 ½ years less than the sentence imposed in 2012.

Based on the amended guidelines, Brooks filed a motion to have his sentence reduced. The probation department gave Siragusa a report that erroneously stated that the maximum sentence for Brooks under the amended guidelines would be 21 years and 10 months.

In a court filing opposed to Brooks’ motion, the U.S. Attorney’s Office also incorrectly claimed that the range called for in the amended sentencing guidelines topped out at 21 years and 10 months.

Even Brooks’ appellate lawyer, Randall D. Unger, repeated the mistake in a response to the prosecutors filing.

“It was a very quirky situation where the probation department’s report just was relied upon by pretty much everybody,” said Unger, a Queens attorney who was appointed to handle Brooks’ appeal.

“As soon as it was pointed out I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is more wrong that I even thought it was,’” he said.

In November 2015, Siragusa denied the motion to reduce the sentence without stating whether he had determined that Brooks was eligible for a sentence reduction or whether he had independently calculated the sentencing range based on the 2014 amendment.

Siragusa wrote that his decision was based on Brooks’ “lengthy criminal history,” “pattern of recidivism,” and his failure to be rehabilitated.

In deciding a motion to reduce a sentence based on an amended sentencing guideline the judge is supposed to first decide what the amended sentencing guideline range would be. After completing that step the judge has the discretion to deny the motion, regardless of eligibility.

“Because of the court’s silence on the question, we cannot tell precisely which steps the court took in reaching its decision,” Justice Pierre N. Leval wrote in the 12-page ruling decided Friday.

“The court’s denial of reduction resulted in a sentence that was (7 ½ years) above the top of Brooks’ new guidelines range,” Leval wrote.

The panel wondered if Siragusa may have believed the incorrect information and left intact the sentence, which was only about three years above he maximum in the range that was erroneously provided.

Leval wrote that the panel doubts that Siragusa would have denied the motion if he realized the sentence he left in place was 7 ½ years higher than what the range should have been.

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