We are thankful to share with you how we were able to save taxpayers thousands of dollars and bring justice to our client, who was severely wronged by the court on 4 counts.
In 2007, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.D.C), long before we were her attorneys, a Middle Eastern woman, pleaded guilty to seven felony counts of conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States. She was sentenced by a federal judge to 10 years’ prison with an additional 10 years of supervised release.
Our client’s attorney at the time and the prosecution both agreed to this plea deal while the judge imposed the sentence. Somehow, neither the defense lawyer, prosecution, judge, nor probation officer realized the glaring oversight in this agreement: the statute for which our client was charged declares that the maximum period of supervised release is only three years, seven years less than the period our client was given. As a result, our client was expected to sacrifice seven years of her freedom to promote the carelessness of a skewed justice system.
While she was in prison, our client filed multiple pro se (without counsel) motions under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to be released based upon the ground that her sentence was imposed in violation of her Constitutional rights. In her motions, our client argued that she should be released because her counsel was ineffective and deficient, her sentence was greater than necessary, and that she was never even shown the plea deal. Each motion was denied.
She solicited several attorneys, none of whom would take her concerns seriously. Then, when she was just out of prison, she came to us. Our client wanted someone who was not afraid to challenge the government. Based on our reputation, she knew she came to the right place.
What our client did not know at the time was that her sentence was not only unreasonable, but it was also illegal. Our task, then, was to determine how best to remedy her situation. We determined three potential options: 1) file a successive motion under 28 USC § 2255; 2) seek a habeas writ under 28 USC § 2241(c); or 3) seek a writ of coram nobis.
Because our client had already filed at least two motions under § 2255, we were procedurally blocked from filing another 2255 motion. We could have argued that the motion was timely because the illegality of the sentence was only recently discovered, but the Court was extremely unlikely to accept this premise. The same was true of seeking a writ of habeas corpus. Our best option was thus to seek a writ of coram nobis. A writ of coram nobis allows the federal judge who imposed the original sentence to set aside the existing conviction and sentence which, for a valid reason, should never have been entered.
In order to seek a writ of coram nobis, one must satisfy four conditions, the last of which is proving that there exists an error of “fundamental character” with the original conviction or sentence. The error for our client was clear–her sentence exceeded the maximum term of supervised release authorized by law, however, we lacked the strength of proper circumstances to sufficiently satisfy the other three conditions. Regardless, we believed that seeking the writ would give our client the best chance for relief and informed the government of our intention to do so if they did not agree to correct their own mistake.
Our client had already served 10-years in prison as a model inmate. Under supervised release, she is subject to weekly monitoring of all activities, intermittent drug tests, and restricted from traveling without government permission. The monitoring of any one person costs taxpayers thousands of dollars. The additional 10-year sentence of supervised release is not only unauthorized by Congress and an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money, but is also, fundamentally, an unjust sentence. After serving 10 years in prison, the statutory 3-year period of supervised release more than fulfills a proper punishment.
Acknowledging the correctness of our position, the government conceded to altering our client’s sentence. The government submitted a motion to change the terms of the supervised release from ten years to three, specifically calling the original plea agreement “clearly erroneous.” The judge granted the motion, stating it was the correct decision “in the interest of justice” to reduce the term.
We are thrilled that we were able to achieve this victory for our client. She has rightfully been returned the seven years that would have otherwise been spent under the watchful eye of the government and is now free to live her life in peace. She served her time and is, as she should be, a free citizen.