Although we are proud of our advocacy in complex felony matters, not every SFH case involves capital crimes or terrorism; in fact, most don’t. For example, on February 16, 2017, SFH partner Brad Haywood argued sentencing in an Alexandria heroin distribution case where his client originally faced guidelines ranging from a low-end of 7 years, 7 months in prison, to a high-end of 12 years, 6 months. After more than a year of relentless advocacy — involving a novel motion to suppress based on destruction of evidence, expert testimony at the plea hearing regarding the “blurred lines” between possession and distribution among communities of addicts (from a former federal agent and current investigator for a public defender’s office), consultation with numerous other experts, involvement of investigators, a motion to exclude the guidelines on the basis of considering “remote” and youthful convictions, and an 18-page sentencing memorandum with nearly 100 pages of exhibits supporting the mitigation case — the Alexandria Circuit Court agreed with the position of the defense, over the strong objection of the Commonwealth.
In issuing its sentence, the Court made clear that leniency was rare in heroin cases — particularly those alleging heroin trafficking — in light the stark reality of the current opiate epidemic and its immense effects on the community. However, the defendant’s addiction, the role it played in his conduct, and his earnest desire for sobriety nonetheless compelled a rehabilitative approach. Rather than a lengthy prison term, the Court departed well-below the low-end of the guidelines, imposing 2 years to serve (8 months of which had been served already), and allowing the defendant permission to request reconsideration and suspension of his remaining sentence if he completes the Sober Living Unit, an intensive residential drug treatment program at the Alexandria jail. Our client is eager to do just that, and get back on the path toward sobriety.
Justice is often elusive in Virginia courts, especially where justice requires compassion. Sadly, this can be true no matter how committed and zealous the defense. It is on those days when justice is truly done and hard work rewarded that we are reminded why we commit so much to this job, and how important it is that we continue to do so.
Thanks as well to SFH associate Kelsey Peregoy, whose assistance in preparing for sentencing was critical to such an excellent result.