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U.S. Supreme Court

Law Prof Pursues Protégé Student’s Sentencing Case

Posted Feb 12, 2008 9:03 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Law student Matthew Sinor of Ohio State law school had an early victory in his legal career. He interceded on behalf of an old Army buddy and persuaded a judge to lower his friend’s sentence for selling cocaine.

But Sinor recently got another lesson in the law from a federal appeals court that disagreed with the change, Adam Liptak writes in his Sidebar column for the New York Times. Now Sinor’s professor, Douglas Berman of Ohio State law school, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to agree with his student protégé.

Sinor had written to U.S. District Judge William Steele of Mobile, Ala., suggesting that the judge did not have to impose a minimum five-year sentence under a “safety valve” for offenders with clean backgrounds who played a minor role in crimes and were truthful about their wrongdoing. Steele agreed and changed the five-year sentence he had imposed for Sgt. Patrick Lett, an Iraq veteran, to 11 days of time served. Lett had an exemplary military record and had abandoned his short stint selling cocaine long before he was charged.

But the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed in an April decision (PDF), saying the judge had not made a “clear error” within the meaning of the statute that allows for corrected sentences.

Berman has joined with Douglas Cole of Jones Day to prepare a cert petition in the case. It will be filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court.

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