U.S. Supreme Court rejects Alabama man’s appeal

Published 4:19 pm Monday, October 6, 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday 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.

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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the judge could not undo his sentence, and 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 Monday that defense attorneys are expected to argue Lett initially had ineffective legal representation.

A Justice Department spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the high court’s ruling.

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 re-enlisted and served another 17 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.