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Supreme Court refuses to overturn mistaken sentence

A judge wrongly thought that a man found guilty of drug possession was required to serve time.

October 12, 2008|Garry Mitchell | Associated Press

MOBILE, ALA. — The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from an Alabama man who was sentenced to five years in prison when a judge wrongly thought the law required him to serve time.

U.S. District Judge William Steele didn't want to order Patrick Lett, a 17-year Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, to prison after the former soldier pleaded guilty to cocaine possession. But the judge thought the law required prison time.

When Steele learned differently, he reduced the punishment to 11 days of time served and three years of supervised release. That didn't satisfy prosecutors, who appealed the lighter sentence on the grounds that Steele didn't have the authority to change the initial five-year sentence.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge could not undo his sentence, and on Monday the Supreme Court rejected Lett's appeal of that decision without comment.

A new sentencing hearing is set for Oct. 24, though one of Lett's attorneys said a delay may be needed to prepare arguments.

Attorney Douglas Berman of Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law in Columbus said defense attorneys are expected to argue that Lett initially had ineffective legal representation.

At the initial sentencing, Steele noted that Lett had led "an exemplary life up until the time of the offenses and even after," when Lett reenlisted and served 17 more months before his indictment.

Lett, now 39, pleaded guilty to cocaine possession for his involvement in a cousin's drug operation.

Lett works full time doing fiber-optics work at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. His two children, who live with Lett's mother, visit him on weekends. He supports his family as a single parent, his attorney said.

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