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Victory: December 2015: Pro Bono Victory Results in Client’s Immediate Release from Federal Prison

December 2015

The firm along with co-counsel, Starnes Davis Florie in Birmingham, Alabama, recently obtained Luis Rivera’s release after serving 30 years in federal prison.  Mr. Rivera was serving a federal sentence of “life” plus a concurrent 80 years for drug trafficking offenses.

In 1985, a jury in the Eastern District of Oklahoma convicted Mr. Rivera of several drug offenses stemming from the seizure of cocaine. At the time, Mr. Rivera was 29 years-old, had no criminal history, and was a veteran of the United States Army National Guard. Nevertheless, the judge sentenced Mr. Rivera to “life without parole” plus a concurrent 140 years (later reduced to “life without parole” plus a concurrent 80 years).

Even though he had no realistic hope of ever being released  from prison, Mr. Rivera was an exemplary inmate and, in 30 years, was never cited with a single disciplinary infraction.  For this reason, a Bureau of Prisons psychologist  took the extraordinary  step of writing a letter in support of Mr. Rivera’s release from prison. Unfortunately, once a  federal defendant’s sentence becomes final, absent government cooperation or evidence showing actual innocence, the only avenue for an early release is a Presidential commutation of sentence. The odds of such relief are extremely long.

Thus, Quinn Emanuel decided to pursue a novel strategy on Mr. Rivera’s behalf. One year ago, Judge Gleeson in the Eastern District of New York asked then-U.S. Attorney (now Attorney General) Loretta Lynch to  vacate two counts from a defendant’s conviction eighteen years earlier. Judge Gleeson based his request on the “fairness” that he said was “inherent in our system of justice.”  When Ms. Lynch agreed to do so, Judge Gleeson applauded her decision in an opinion and order releasing  the defendant from prison. See United  States v. Holloway, 68 F. Supp. 3d 310 (E.D.N.Y. 2014).

Relying on Holloway, the firm’s strategy was to request that both the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma and Judge Seay (still on the bench 30 years later) follow the precedent set by Judge Gleeson. Quinn Emanuel met with United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Mark Green, who agreed to the firm’s proposal.

After the meeting, Quinn Emanuel filed a motion requesting Mr. Rivera’s immediate release and citing Holloway. The government then  filed a response supporting  the firm’s  motion and citing Holloway as precedent. Judge Seay subsequently granted the motion, and Mr. Rivera was released a few hours later after serving thirty years in prison.