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Plain Error Keys Resentencing in Federal Drug Appeal

A convicted drug runner will be resentenced after a federal appeals panel found a district court judge in Wisconsin committed plain error in assessing the Chicago man’s role in an interstate trafficking operation. The three-member panel in the US 7th Circuit agreed that Judge William Conley also overstated Fred McGee’s criminal history, including a DUI conviction more than a decade earlier, when he passed sentence in 2019. Conley added so-called Leadership Points to the guidelines in saddling McGee with seven years for transporting more than 100 grams of heroin and fentanyl from the Windy City.

McGee and two associates were on their way to Minneapolis when cops pulled them over for speeding and conducted the search that yielded the drugs. A months-long pre-trial investigation that included interviews, jailhouse chatter and a monitored telephone conversation he had with the ringleader about the arrest, McGee pled guilty to a charge of possession with intent to distribute. In passing sentence, Conley concurred with probation officials that deemed McGee an “organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in the criminal activity” in adding two points to the calculation and three more for breaking parole on the DUI.

McGee challenged the enhancements and said Conley denied his right to refute the sentence in court. While failing to rule on the allocution claim, the appeals panel cited both testimony and case law in remanding the case. They said facts pointed to McGee’s role as a middleman in the operation and ruled the more than 200 days McGee served in jail after his probation was revoked should not have been counted as part of his sentence on that 2007 conviction.

This case highlights factors in play at sentencing and underscores the errors in calculation and procedure that can add years to a prison term. The Illinois Defense Attorneys at the Chicagoland Law Firm represent clients in DuPage County, in Cook County and in courts around the state, including in sentencing appeals. If you are in need of representation, our team of experienced professionals can discuss the facts in your case in a free consultation. This may be conducted in person, by phone or via the teleconferencing platforms — including Zoom and Webex — that we use to interact with courts during the Covid-19 pandemic. We can’t offer legal advice until you retain us. When you do, we will represent you zealously. We are your best defense.