Federal Prosecutors Have Opposed Every Request For Early Release Under A Local Law Aimed At Juvenile Offenders

By Kira Lerner, DCist

The office of Jessie Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, has opposed all 14 resentencing requests that have come under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act.  Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

The office of Jessie Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, has opposed all 14 resentencing requests that have come under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act.

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

During 25 years in prison, David Bailey was written up for one argument and one physical fight, but for the most part, his record was clean. He taught himself to read and write and earned his GED. Despite his life sentence, he enrolled in programs aimed at rehabilitation and he tried to provide his two daughters with emotional and financial support.

He also grew and matured from a reckless 17-year-old who had been locked up in federal prison for second-degree murder into a 43-year-old who knew that his actions had been wrong.

The Supreme Court recognized that such transformations were possible when, based on a growing understanding of children’s brains, it outlawed life without parole for juvenile offenders in 2012. So when the District of Columbia passed a related law in 2016, the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, Bailey said he was cautiously optimistic. The law allowed people who were under 18 when convicted who had served at least 20 years in prison to have their sentences reconsidered.

With the help of his lawyer, James Zeigler, Bailey petitioned the D.C. Superior Court to reduce his sentence and release him on supervision so he could return to his community in D.C., where in 1994 he had been sentenced to 35 years to life for shooting and killing two people outside a nightclub.

To Zeigler, Bailey was one of the people the D.C. Council had in mind when it passed the resentencing law. His client had taken anger management courses, reformed his erratic behavior, and generally turned his life around, he said.

But to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of D.C., the unelected federal prosecutors who represent the people of the nation’s capital, Bailey was still a threat.

“When scrutinized, defendant’s conduct while incarcerated is not that much different than that which resulted in the murder” of the two people he killed, the office of Jessie K. Liu, the U.S. attorney in D.C., wrote in its June 2018 opposition to Bailey’s sentence reduction.

Bailey considers that characterization patently false.

“They had nothing to support that,” he said. “I only got two shots in 25 years. You’re not talking about two months or two weeks or even a year. We’re talking about 25 years.”

It’s not just Bailey whose petition was opposed. In the two years since IRAA took effect, the U.S. attorney’s office has tried to block the resentencing of all 14 people whose motions were heard in court. All but one still had their requests granted by the Superior Court judges and have walked out of prison.

In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. told The Appeal that it “does not subscribe to an approach of unilateral opposition.”

“We are mindful that in each of these cases, the defendant has committed a serious crime, such as rape or murder,” said Kadia Koroma, a spokesperson for the office. “Because of this, we thoroughly review each motion and evaluate the defendant’s request for a sentence reduction knowing that this request could affect the victim, the victim’s family, and the community.”

In February, the D.C. government said there were nearly 100 eligible people who could apply for resentencing under IRAA.

Zeigler said he expects the U.S. attorney’s office to oppose resentencing in every one. “Ordinarily, in most systems where you have the executive branch flatly refusing to apply in good faith a law that the legislative branch has enacted, there would be some sort of consequences for this,” he said. “Here, that is not the case. We have no control over our prosecutors’ office.”

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