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Safety Valve Showcased in Drug Sentence Appeal

Federal reversal of a sentence applied by a judge in Wisconsin highlights the value of so-called safety-valve relief for those convicted of drug crimes. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Fitchburg man was entitled to consideration when he was convicted of possession with intent to distribute, even as a handgun was recovered in his 2019 arrest on methamphetamines and weapons charges. While Stamps received a sentence below the minimum guideline, as is allowed by safety valve conditions, the Chicago-based appellate court ruled he should be resentenced.

At issue is whether the district court judge applied the safety valve that sees first-timers facing a mandatory minimum prison stretch to avoid jail. The five factors that determine whether a convict qualifies are based on criminal history, a managerial role in cases of gang-related offenses, whether violence was involved and victims suffered physical harm, and the willingness to detail all facets of the crime to law enforcement. In Stamps’ case, the gun found along with drugs, scales and cash in a search of his apartment led the judge to preclude use of the safety valve even as the 60 months he received was below guidelines for possession for more than 50 grams of the drug.

In rejecting that state’s contention that the error was harmless, the panel said that the record did not permit it to infer whether Stamps’ claim that the gun wasn’t used in the drug deals he admitted to conducting over a five-year period prior to his arrest was properly addressed. As a result, judges remanded the case in order to determine whether the gun met evidence standards in the case.

The safety valve provides a two-level reduction in sentencing minimums and can result in some offenders avoiding jail time. To receive it, convicts must convince probation officials the facts in their cases are genuine, as is the information they provide to law enforcement regarding the crime. The 2018 First Step Act extended the safety valve to defendants with more serious criminal records and those convicted of violating the Maritime Drug Enforcement Act.

The safety valve provides the DuPage County Defense Attorneys at The Chicagoland Law Firm with a useful tool in helping those charged with drug offenses in the state of Illinois. To learn more about how we construct criminal defense strategies, contact our offices in Downers Grove and downtown Chicago for a free consultation. A member of our experienced team of legal professionals will listen to the facts in your case. Should you retain us, we will work to achieve the best possible outcome based on case law, court procedure and judicial tendencies. We are your best defense.