16 Sep First Circuit Denies Relief Under First Step Act, Too
Earlier this week, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied relief under the First Step Act to two prisoners. But it wasn’t the only one. In United States v Fields, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit joined the list, too.
Fields was convicted and sentenced under the 100:1 sentencing framework for crack-cocaine sentences.
In 2008, a Massachusetts jury convicted Blake Fields of distributing more than five grams of cocaine. And a Massachusetts federal court sentenced him to 18 years in prison for the offense. This lengthy prison term was largely the product of Fields’ status as a so-called “career offender,” not the quantity or type of cocaine he distributed.
After his 18-year sentence, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and the First Step Act of 2018. With the Fair Sentencing Act, Congress reduced the 100:1 crack-versus-powder disparity in sentencing to 18:1. But, because the Fair Sentencing Act wasn’t retroactive, it didn’t benefit Fields. That changed with the First Step Act.
The First Step Act made some of the Fair Sentencing Act’s provisions retroactive. Unfortunately for Fields (and numerous other prisoners serving unfair crack-cocaine sentences), the First Step Act did not impact the “career offender” rules. As a result, even if “career offender” sentences look drastically unfair under the current sentencing scheme, many courts conclude that prisoners can’t get relief under the First Step Act. Fields is one of them.
Following its own analysis in United States v Concepcion, the First Circuit denied First Step Act relief.
Following its own analysis in United States v Concepcion, both the federal district court and the First Circuit ruled that Fields couldn’t get relief under the First Step Act. As a general rule, the First Circuit is bound by prior panel decisions under the “law of the circuit” concept.
Fields asked the First Circuit to reject that prior interpretation of the First Step Act. But the appellate court declined to do so. “It is not the place of another panel of this court to make that determination and we will not do so here.”