Marijuana lifer Craig Cesal on the challenges facing prisoners serving life sentences and one of the root causes of mass incarceration.
Reduce Mass Incarceration by Restoring Habeus Corpus for Prisoners
In 1981, there were only about 21,000 federal prisoners. Most were imprisoned for interstate bank robbery charges, racketeering related cases, and other actual federal crimes.
That all changed in 1986 when Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentences for the newly defined “federal drug crimes.” Another first was that federal authorities were now allowed to actually pay prosecution witnesses. Sometimes this pay came in the form of cash, but usually these prosecution witnesses were rewarded with significant reductions in the prison sentences they would have otherwise served, for these “witnesses” were almost always involved in the same activity they were testifying about.
By the late 1990’s, the federal prison population was increasing by over 10,000 prisoners per year. The federal authorities, and the courts were prosecuting and convicting more prisoners than ever, and a lot of mistakes were made. Especially mistakes regarding what constitutes guilt of the federal crime, and how to apply the newly created sentencing guidelines. A lot of prisoners sought post-conviction remedies for these mistakes and the courts were overwhelmed.
In 1995, Congress came up with a cure for the overburdened courts.
They passed a nasty bit of legislation called the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which blocked most lawsuits brought by prisoners regarding prison conditions. The following year Congress passed the Anti Effective Death Penalty Act, which disallowed most post-conviction challenges raised by federal prisoners.
No More Prisoner Challenges
Now, except in very limited circumstances, a prisoner cannot challenge that the district court incorrectly computed his sentencing guideline, and errantly gave him more than ten extra years on his sentence.
A prisoner may only bring one challenge to his conviction and sentence, and it must be done within one year of when his sentence became final. He does not get the assistance of a lawyer to help him with this.
As currently written: In order to prevail, the sentencing judge who decides the one petition, must hold that he had erred in the previous proceedings.
No matter how wrong they are in actuality, judges seldom find they made a mistake, and judges almost never grant post-conviction relief.
It’s Different for State Prisoners
A state prisoner, who is accordingly sentenced by a state judge, can seek a writ of habeas corpus in a federal court. The federal judge can overturn the error, and order relief to the state prisoner.
On the other hand, a federal prisoner, who is sentenced by a federal judge, is not permitted the same review, or the same potential relief. A federal judge, by statute, cannot overturn another federal judge unless the law is changed and the conduct for which the prisoner is convicted is determined to not be a crime.
If the sentencing judge COULD HAVE corrected any other error, no other federal judge may do so. That is the frustration that I and other federal prisoners live with.
Since my sentencing judge could have chosen to allow me to have my own lawyer, or could have chosen not to facilitate the lawyers’ theft of my assets, I am not permitted review for a writ of habeas corpus in
Congress, and its representatives need to compel a