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Spending Thanksgiving at Home

Alcatraz09-225x300Our office had two happy results in cases in the last twenty-four hours, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. I won’t use names to protect client confidentiality, but here is the short version of how two men will pass a more peaceful Thanksgiving than they have in a long time.

Our first client was in prison in Virginia for years for trafficking in cocaine while he was on federal supervised release. After his Virginia prison term ended, he was brought to the Southern District of New York to face sanctions for violating his release terms. Although he had a long rap sheet, he did well in Virginia prisons, completing numerous courses and garnering praise from his work supervisors in jail. He was ready to be released, but, although he had family around the country, there was no plan for him. We nonetheless asked for time-served and the federal judge asked us to come back with a plan in a few weeks, that is, yesterday. We proposed also making a written submission to aid in sentencing and present what we learned about the client’s success in jail.

So associate attorney Victoria Medley got to work, calling around potential drug rehabilitation programs near the client’s family members in Maryland. Calls went unanswered, paperwork was required, and the whole effort seemed mired in bureaucracy. Eventually, though, a suitable program was found and told us, in principle, that he would be accepted. We submitted a detailed brief to the judge about the client’s progress in prison, and explaining the unique circumstances that caused him to go off the rails and back into drug dealing years ago. We showed up to court yesterday expecting that he would be detained through the holidays until an actual rehab bed could be secured, confirmed, paid for and, basically, guaranteed.

But we were surprised when the client’s ex-wife, daughter and two step-children showed up at the Southern District courtroom. They had driven up from Maryland. They had a car. They were ready to take our client home for Thanksgiving — all we had to do was get the judge to agree.

The judge had clearly read our papers and knew that the client was someone who had turned another leaf. She saw the support of the family. She heard his brief statement of remorse and description of the work he had done in prison. She heard Ms. Medley’s arguments that the client should not only be allowed to go home, but should also be permitted to spend the holidays with his beautiful daughters, who were sitting in the second row, staring up at the judge, pleading with their eyes. The judge agreed. The marshals did a warrant check. We got a voice message this morning saying they were all safely back in Maryland.

The other story is a little less dramatic but also meaningful. Our client is an infirm drug addict with mental health problems in his late 50s. He was picked up in June and charged with crack distribution in federal court. He faced up to twenty years in prison. But his daughters showed up at his presentment and we persuaded the government and the judge they would look after him and keep him off drugs. He had been living in public housing with his ex-wife, but because of the pending drug charge, he could not stay there. His daughters found him a rented room and immediately got him into the drug program. In addition to crack, he had been using marijuana every day, but, with the support of his family, he was able to stop and emerge from the fog he had grown accustomed to.  He immediately authorized us to negotiate for a plea with the government and we did indeed ask for an offer. None was forthcoming, but since he was doing so well at liberty, we did not press the issue. Then I got an email this morning, something to give thanks for: the case was dismissed on the government’s motion. Our client can spend Thanksgiving without the heavy weight of impending federal prison hanging over his head. With the dismissal order in hand, he will be able to move back home.

We wish all our clients had as much to give thanks for at this time of year, and wish everyone a happy holiday.