Retroactive Justice: Toward Fundamental Fairness In Resentencing Crack Cocaine Offenders Under Section 404 of The First Step Act

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In a rare bipartisan moment under the Trump presidency, Congress passed a celebrated criminal justice reform package, the First Step Act of 2018. The law was necessary to begin remedying decades of an unduly harsh and discriminatory drug sentencing regime, which ushered in the era of mass incarceration. Section 404 of the First Step Act mitigates that injustice by allowing prisoners sentenced under the 100:1 crack cocaine to powder cocaine sentencing ratio to move to be resentenced under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010’s 18:1 sentencing ratio.

This reform holds great promise. Take, for example, the story of Gary Rhines, who is heralded as the face of the First Step Act.  Mr. Rhines was a victim of society, forced to traffic drugs as a pre-teen to support parents struggling with addiction, who garnered a criminal record at a young age. Those prior offenses earned him a mandatory life sentence at the age of twenty-eight, when he was convicted as a participant in the sale of sixty-six grams of crack cocaine. Though he stood no chance of regaining his freedom, Mr. Rhines bettered himself over fourteen years in prison through drug treatment, education, and professional training. In 2019, under section 404 of the First Step Act, Mr. Rhines’s remaining sentence was vacated, and he was resentenced to time served. Unfortunately, because of the law’s problematic and arbitrary implementation, Mr. Rhines’s story is not representative of most offenders petitioning to be resentenced under section 404.

Section 404 is arbitrarily implemented because it is written ambiguously. The law leaves two open questions for courts to decide: (1) the authority of the court to impose a new sentence or modify the existing sentence, and (2) what updates in sentencing guidelines and caselaw to apply, if any. Regarding the first question, if the court decides to impose a new sentence, it conducts a comprehensive review of the prisoner’s character, background, and rehabilitation, allowing the prisoner to fully present his case to the court, as the court did in resentencing Mr. Rhines. In contrast, if the court decides merely to modify the existing sentence, it defaults to the findings of the original court, and denies the prisoner the basic human dignity to be present at his own hearing and address the court.

In answering the second question, the court must decide whether it will conduct a “time machine” resentencing and return to the legal landscape at the time of the original conviction to re-sentence, or resentence according to present law at the time of defendant’s motion. Mr. Rhines was eligible for full relief because the court chose not to use the time machine method. The court’s choice to apply the time machine method or present law weighs especially heavily on defendants who were originally sentenced as “career offenders,” and those who had drug weights attributed to them in the presentence report that were significantly greater than the amount of the offense. These issues are particularly salient be- cause they are legal issues which greatly enhance a defendant’s sentence and are areas of law that have seen significant change in the last decade.

The overlap of these two open questions has led to four different methods of resentencing prisoners under section 404. In Method I, the court imposes a new sentence, but applies the time machine approach. Method II applies the more limited procedure of a sentence modification and the same time machine approach. Method III again applies the more limited sentence modification, but rejects the time machine approach and modifies following current law. Finally, in Method IV, courts impose a new sentence and apply all current sentencing guidelines and caselaw; this amounts to a full plenary resentencing.

Daniel P. Peyton*

J.D. Candidate, 2021, University of Richmond School of Law; M.A. Theology, 2017,

Fuller Theological Seminary; B.B.A., 2013, The College of William and Mary. I am grateful to Professors Mary Kelly Tate, Rachel J. Suddarth, and Erin R. Collins for their formative comments, expertise, and guidance. I am also thankful to my fellow members of the University of Richmond Law Review for their outstanding work in editing and publishing this Comment in spite of a pandemic. Above all, I would like to thank Kristen Peyton, for her continued support and encouragement, and Clair Peyton, my first editor.




The State Attorney General’s Duty to Advise As a Source of Law

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Despite the broad importance of the function, scholarship examining the state attorney general’s duty to advise is remarkably thin. This could be due to the fact that state law has generally received less acknowledgment and importance in modern legal education and academia. Additionally, when looking for sources of law, legal academic discourse typically places a heavy emphasis on statutes and judge-made law, at the cost of examining all other sources of law.

This Comment seeks to help fill that gap by considering how a state attorney general’s duty to advise functions as a source of law, by proposing six general models of how the opinions of a state attorney general can alter the legal rights, duties, and relations of persons. In doing so, this Comment still seeks to acknowledge and respect the fact that each state’s individual constitution and traditions will create a unique role for its attorney general’s duty to advise in shaping state law.

Win Jordan

J.D. Candidate, 2020, University of Richmond School of Law; B.A. with Distinction, 2015, University of Virginia. I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to Trevor Cox and Matt McGuire for their guidance, mentorship, and kindness. Additionally, this Comment would not exist if it were not for Jan Proctor and Tish Hawkins opening my eyes to the importance of the opinions of state attorneys general. Finally, a special thanks to the fantastic editorial board and staff, including Legal Publication Coordinator Glenice Coombs, of Volume 54 of the University of Richmond Law Review for their hard work and friendship.




Prosecutors and Police: An Unholy Union

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This Article argues that, with the once-unheard-of step of prosecutors and police unionizing together in St. Louis, and with relationships between prosecutors and police trending toward growing closer all the time, government at all levels—federal, state, and lo- cal—should consider the potential risks of such relationships. Part I explores different types of relationships that go beyond what was once the traditional working relationship between police and prosecutors, including formalized labor unions, employee association groups, friendships, and even marriages. Part II discusses the varying conflicts and deleterious effects that such close relationships cause, unduly influencing investigation priorities and other policies. Part III theorizes as to different steps that may be taken to alleviate the risks inherent in overly cozy relationships between police and prosecutors.

Maybell Romero*

*Assistant Professor, Northern Illinois University College of Law. J.D., 2006, U.C. Berkeley School of Law; B.A., 2003, Cornell University. Many thanks to Kay Levine, Ron Wright, Ben Levin, Bruce Green, Jennifer Laurin, Miriam Cherry, Jeremy Kidd, Heidi Kuehl, Carliss Chatman, Sarah Fox, Kali Nicole Murray, and attendees at both the 2019 Criminal Justice Ethics Schmooze and CrimFest 2019. The author is especially grateful to the editors and staff of the University of Richmond Law Review, who were kind enough to show me infinite patience during challenging times, particularly with the outbreak of the COVID- 19 pandemic.




Unfoxing Judicial Review of Agency Policy Reversals or “We Were Told to Like the New Policy Better” is Not a Good Reason to Change

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The Trump administration has been conducting a scorched- earth campaign to reverse the regulatory handiwork of the Obama administration. This spectacular change in direction did not occur because federal agencies suddenly gained new information and expertise on the day of President Trump’s inauguration. Instead, the driving motivation has been political and ideological—e.g., to put it mildly, the current administration strikes a different balance between business and environmental/health concerns than its predecessor. In one obvious sense, this change in administrative direction is nothing new—the Obama administration reversed Bush administration policies, and the Bush administration reversed Clinton administration policies, etc. That said, the scope and intensity of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back the Obama years—combined with what might reasonably be called a general assault by political forces on expert administration—provides a natural occasion to reflect on how administrative law ensures the legality and rationality of agency policy reversals with political motivations.

Richard W. Murphy*

*AT&T Professor of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law. Many thanks to Professors Sidney Shapiro, Louis Virelli, Bryan Camp, and Alex Pearl for their help with this Article.



Uniform Climate Control

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On July 22, 2019, outspoken climate change advocate Al Gore found himself sitting second chair once again as a bill was signed into law. This time he sat not beside the President of the United States, but rather beside the Governor of New York. Moments after Governor Andrew Cuomo rapidly scribbled his name on the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, he passed the pen and paper to a grinning Gore. A resident of Nashville, Tennessee who holds no elected office in the State of New York, Gore’s signature had precisely zero legal effect—it served ceremonial and publicity purposes only. Among many other ambitious goals, the celebrity-endorsed state law he giddily signed man- dates that New York achieve one hundred percent carbon neutrality by 2050. Al Gore called it “the most ambitious, the most well- crafted legislation in the country.” But he was far from its only

fan; the law drew widespread praise across the climate policy community—and even from the Hulk.

New York State’s bold legislative steps to confront climate change came only months after New York City enacted its own “Green New Deal” on the municipal level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city. In April 2019, in celebration of Earth Day, the New York City Council passed the Climate Mobilization Act, a package of ten bills designed to keep the city on pace with the reductions set by the Paris Climate Agreement.8 One Councilmember applauded his work as “the single largest carbon reduction ef- fort in any city, anywhere.” Some of the media, however, focused on the law’s provisions related to environmentally conscious food choices and procurement, claiming the city banned its most famous culinary contribution—the hot dog.

New York’s state and city lawmaking exemplifies a multijurisdictional approach to the global climate crisis that has taken hold in various places across this and other countries. We are ushering 

in the next generation of environmental laws, and those laws will largely be authored not by international negotiators or federal legislators, but by state and local officials. Where do these lawmakers, many of them part-time civil servants, look for guidance on bill language to properly address perhaps the most complex environmental challenge of our time? Unfortunately, the most influential provider of model legislation has to this point aligned against proactive climate action. A growing body of resources, including model codes and ordinances, could help fill the void. This work aims to draw attention to the imbalance in model lawmaking. It then examines the growing resources facilitating proactive climate change law at the state and local levels. Finally, it asks how well this model-law ecosystem fits with the principles of federalism in the context of the evolving environmental legal landscape.

Anthony Moffa*

Associate Professor of Law, University of Maine School of Law. The author would like to thank Thea Johnson, Sarah Schindler, and William Sedlack for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts. Special thanks are due to Michael Gerrard and John Dernbach for their pathbreaking work on model climate policy and their guidance on this theoretical treatment of it. This Article also benefited from the Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship at Vermont Law School and the New Directions in Environmental Law Conference at Yale Law School and Yale School of the Environment. All errors are the author’s alone.


Balancing Religious Liberties and Antidiscrimination Interests in the Public Employment Context: The Impact of Masterpiece Cakeshop and American Legion

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At the heart of national debate in recent years is the balance between religious liberty and antidiscrimination interests. The Supreme Court energized the debate in its latest Free Speech and Establishment Clause decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and American Legion v. American Humanist Association. These decisions pushed the pendulum towards greater protection of religious liberties and opened the door to new context-specific tests for how the Establishment Clause will interact with the broader range of interests protected by the Free Exercise Clause. This is especially significant in the public employment context, where government employers must balance requests for religious freedom accommodations with Establishment Clause concerns.

Next, this Article details the importance of the protection paradigm operating in the employment context generally, and the public employment context in particular. As to the latter, this Article outlines the concerns of a government employer as they relate to balancing claims for religious liberties with the employer’s obligations pursuant to the Establishment Clause. It details the unique context of a governmental entity as both sovereign and employer and argues for the importance of a situation-specific standard in these situations. To put this context in perspective, this Article reviews the Establishment Clause jurisprudence that led to the Supreme Court’s most recent decision in American Legion. After examining American Legion itself, this Article argues that the Court has opened the door to, and indeed indicated its preference for, the development of more context-specific tests. This is especially preferable in the public employment context and in light of the currently prevailing protection paradigm.

Finally, this Article concludes by analyzing different potential methods for trying to balance religious liberty claims with antidiscrimination concerns, and thus Establishment Clause concerns, in public employment. This Article argues for a combination of relevant tests that balances the magnitude and likelihood of third- party harm, substantiality of burden to religious liberty, and availability or prevalence of secular accommodations. This test provides room for factual inquiry and context-specific value judgments, while still allowing a workable framework, the results of which are sufficiently predictable that employers and employees are not left to wonder about the boundaries by which their relationship should be governed.



Brenda Bauges*

 * Visiting Professor at the University of Idaho, College of Law. Professor Bauges was previously, from 2018–2020, an Assistant Professor at Concordia University School of Law and Director of Externships, Mentorship, and Pro Bono Programs. Prior to joining Concordia Law, Professor Bauges practiced in employment law, representing both government entities and private organizations. She is grateful for the help of her research assistant, Gwen King, and her colleagues for their encouragement and advice. She would especially like to thank Aaron and Alexander Bauges for their unwavering support and patience.