Sunday, May 13, 2012


Word first reached me of the new 11th federal appeal from a fellow defense counsel "This is a killer in our district. Safety valve is the only hope for 90% of these guys." And it wasn't long before I knew that he was right. In federal cases in the Middle District of Florida an area that encompasses Tampa and Pinellas, there's often limited discretion for the judges to reduce sentences in complex criminal drug cases, the safety valve for those defendants with no prior record has helped them serve a little less jail time, make amends to America and get on with their lives upon being deported  where they'll probably never again need the services of a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney.

Safety valve requires a defendant to have no criminal history, to accept responsibility for his actions, and to co-operate with authorities to the extent of giving complete information as to the unlawful acts he committed. The benefit for the Defendant is a two level reduction (a few months) in his sentence off the top, but more importantly it gives the sentencing Federal Judge the ability to go under the mandatory minimum sentence (often a few more months), this on an overall sentence that's over or at ten years. Instead of a safety valve in these drug cases there'll be more prison for those caught, higher taxes for all of us to pay for that prison and for the prisoners further time away from their families. And for law enforcement there'll be that much less incentive for defendants to co-operate as Pinellas Criminal Defense Lawyers tell drug defendants transporting significant amounts of cocaine that in Tampa Bay there is no longer any opportunity of gaining safety valve for them. 

Here is the case. In a nutshell it states that safety valve is not applicable in cases involving vessels transporting drugs to America. see United States v. Edgar Alfonso Pertuz–Pertuz, No. 10– 15800  (May 11, 2012) Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida Panel: 
federal court of appeals takes away safety valve for drug defendants
Bosch,  1492, Ship of Fools
The question presented by this appeal was whether the safety valve provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) apply to defendants convicted of drug offenses under Title 46 – in this case, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine while aboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, in violation of 46 U.S.C. §§ 70503(a)(1), 70506(a) & (b). The Eleventh Circuit held that they do not. 
The defendant pleaded guilty to committing drug offenses on the high seas and was sentenced to 120 months, the statutory mandatory minimum sentence. He appealed, contending that he should instead have been sentenced below the mandatory minimum in accord with 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), the “safety valve” provision. Relying on what it called the plain text of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), the Court held that the safety valve provision applies only to convictions under five specified offenses: 21 U.S.C. § 841, § 844, § 846, § 960, and § 963. It further held that the defendant was not convicted of an offense “under” one of the statutes, even though the Title 46 offenses for which he was convicted reference the penalty provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 960. The safety valve statute, the Court reasoned, refers to an “offense under” section 960 – not to an “offense penalized under” section 960 and not to a “sentence under” section 960.