Facing a 20 Year Minimum Prison Sentence At Indictment — And Walked Out with a 36 Month Sentence

Last week we represented a client at a federal sentencing in the Southern District of New York who was charged with Kidnapping; the client received a 36 month sentence, despite the fact that he was initially facing a 20 year mandatory minimum sentence when he was indicted.  United States v. Santellan Maigua, 15 CR 822 (SDNY)(DLC).  And this occurred without the client cooperating with the government.  How we got to 36 months from 20 years is a primer in how “winning” a criminal case in New York federal court or elsewhere sometimes must be done in careful, multiple phases and requires different types of advocacy throughout – and why hiring a top New York criminal defense attorney can make the difference between a life destroyed and a life saved in the federal courts. 

The Special Circumstances of the Kidnapping Required a Mandatory 20 Year Sentence

Our client, a 20 year-old with no prior criminal record, was arrested last year after traveling to his 17 year-old, ex-girlfriend’s high school and allegedly forcing her into his vehicle.  According to the government, over the next 11 hours he berated and threatened her while driving from Queens, New York to Maryland where he eventually released her at an airstrip.  He was arrested in Maryland, charged with Kidnapping and remanded by a federal magistrate.  Complicating matters: 18 U.S.C. § 1201, the federal Kidnapping statute, contains a “Special Rule for Certain Offenses Involving Children” – a 20 year mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant is age 18 or older and the victim is under age 18 – exactly the circumstances present here.  At this point we stepped into the case.

The First Break: The 20 Year Mandatory Minimum is Dropped

It was our position that the defendant’s conduct did not merit the 20 year minimum sentence as the statute’s “Special Rule” did not anticipate a defendant slightly older than 18 years of age kidnapping a slightly younger-than 18 year-old victim – who he had been dating.  Having an incredibly fair prosecutor on the case helped tremendously: he not only agreed with this reasoning but also agreed to a bail package and our client was released from prison.  Noting that no violence had occurred during the kidnapping, the government agreed to not enforce the 20 year minimum sentence, leaving us with an advisory Sentencing Guidelines range of 87-108 months in prison on the Kidnapping charge – still a very severe sentence for this 20 year-old young man.

We researched various less-severe criminal statutes for a possible plea deal in an effort to reduce the defendant’s criminal exposure.  Our ability to possibly fight this case at trial by claiming that the victim had consented to the trip was hampered by the government’s seizure of the defendant’s iPad which revealed that just the day before the incident he had researched online topics including how to kidnap someone, how to force an underage girlfriend to marry him, and the criminal penalties for kidnapping.

The Client Did Not Help Matters

Our luck did not improve at this point: the defendant was remanded after violating his bail conditions for contacting the victim repeatedly via phone. With a plea offer of 87-108 months but with no statutory maximum prison term for Kidnapping, the judge was certainly capable and permitted to give a sentence of anywhere from that Guidelines range upward – especially taking into account the bail violation.  Again, having a reasonable prosecutor helped: he eventually agreed to a plea deal to a charge of Stalking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(1)(B).  When determining the Sentencing Guidelines range for this conviction, the underlying Kidnapping conduct was cross-referenced pursuant to U.S.S.G. §2A6.2(c)(1) and the advisory range was still 87-108 months; however, the Stalking charge, most importantly, came with just a five year statutory maximum prison sentence.  We were now in a worst-case scenario of a five year prison sentence.  With the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range significantly higher at 87-108 months, it was presumed the defendant would receive the maximum five year sentence – especially since Judge Denise Cote is not known as a light sentencer.

An Incredible Result Before Judge Cote 

After hearing our arguments and considering our voluminous submission at sentencing, however, Judge Cote – even after acknowledging that she was factoring in the defendant’s bail violation and after considering the victim’s claim she was also raped by the defendant – gave him just a 36 month sentence, a far cry from the 20 year minimum sentence he faced just a few months earlier. and well below the Guidelines range.  Our client’s life went from potentially being destroyed to spared, all due to successful advocacy in which no stone was left unturned.  Call the federal criminal lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman for a consultation today so that we may help you with your federal criminal case.