O’Melveny Worldwide

With O’Melveny’s Help, Pro Bono Client Wins Major Step Towards Ending Lengthy Prison Sentence

December 3, 2018


WASHINGTON, DC—December 3, 2018—O’Melveny has scored a major, precedent-setting victory in the Fourth Circuit, securing a reversal that removes a major hurdle in a pro bono client’s quest for release from prison.

In 2004, the client, Stoney Lester, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for possessing with intent to distribute 15 grams of crack cocaine. Lester received that sentence only because binding precedent required him to be designated a career offender under the then-mandatory sentencing guidelines. But courts later reversed the precedent that required Lester’s designation as a career offender, meaning that the maximum lawful sentence Lester should have received was nearly a decade shorter.

Lester filed a pro se habeas petition, but the district court denied it, concluding that the federal habeas statute provided him no avenue to rely upon the favorable change in law even though that change made clear he never should have been exposed to a sentence anywhere close to 22 years.

O’Melveny was appointed to represent Lester on appeal and argued that the so-called “savings clause” in the federal habeas statute permitted Lester to challenge his sentence in the exceptional circumstances of his case. In an opinion published November 30, the Fourth Circuit agreed, concluding that Lester should be allowed to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his unlawful sentence, and effectively mandating issuance of the writ itself and ultimately his release from prison.

The team representing Lester includes partner Jonathan Hacker, counsel Brad Garcia, and associates Brian Quinn and Jessica Waddle. Garcia argued the case.

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Christopher Rieck
O’Melveny & Myers LLP
+1 212 326 2218