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US judge says no to release in drug case

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to release a prisoner who is serving a relatively lengthy sentence for a drug conviction that categorized him as a career criminal, though the classification was based in large part on a separate state drug conviction connected to the state drug lab scandal.

The prisoner, Adam Davila, recently had a state judge overturn the 2008 state conviction, effectively eliminating his legal classification as a career criminal, and he had asked to be resentenced in federal court to time already served.

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US District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. agreed to scale Davila’s sentence back several years, based on the change in legal classification, but he said he was taking a “global” look at Davila’s entire record in refusing to release him.

Davila, who has a 30-year record for crimes including assault and manslaughter, had originally been sentenced to 10 years in prison under the career criminal classification. He asked that he be resentenced to 41 months, or time already served, which would have allowed him to walk out of the courthouse a free man. He faced 33 months under sentencing guidelines without the career criminal classification.

O’Toole instead resentenced him to 72 months, meaning he will serve his sentence for nearly another three years.

“I think [the sentence] requires a more holistic or global approach” than relying on the sentencing guideline calculations, the judge said.

The case was one of the first of its kind connected to the state drug lab scandal to make its way into the federal court system, what legal experts say will become an increasing occurrence as drug defendants challenge convictions connected to the lab.

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The Hinton laboratory in Jamaica Plain was shut down last year after authorities learned that a chemist was fabricating drug analysis reports and failing to follow protocol, tainting the evidence she examined. The chemist, Annie Dookhan, has been charged in state court, and officials are investigating the extent of the failures at the laboratory. Already, investigators have identified more than 40,000 drug cases whose evidence could be tainted.

The vast majority of the cases have been in state court, because federal investigators typically use their own laboratory in investigating drug crimes.

But now, as defense lawyers have had their clients’ cases overturned at the state level, they are filing challenges to lengthy sentences that were handed out in federal court and that were based on a state conviction related to the lab.

Under the federal court system, for instance, a defendant with repeat drug and violent crime convictions within a certain time frame could be classified as a career criminal, a designation that would increase their federal sentence.

Davila, 47, of Dorchester, had been convicted in federal court in June 2012 for distribution of a total of 9 grams of heroin during a law enforcement sting two years earlier. He would have faced a sentence of 27 to 33 months, but he was classified as a career criminal based on two previous drug convictions, including the 2008 one, increasing his potential sentence to as many as 15 years in prison.

During a hearing Tuesday, Assistant US Attorney Christopher Pohl argued that the 10-year sentence he had received was still appropriate, even without the legal career criminal classification, based on Davila’s history of crime. Pohl ultimately asked that Davila be sentenced to 84 months.

“There’s the everyday, ordinary expression of what a career criminal is,” Pohl said. “He is a person who has spent his life committing serious crimes.”

Davila’s lawyer, George Gormley, asked O’Toole to recognize that Davila’s history of crime could be attributed to his drug addiction, and he asked that Davila receive treatment, rather than be sent to prison. He noted that Davila faced only 33 months under the original sentencing guidelines.

In handing out the sentence Tuesday, O’Toole said he would have originally handed out a sentence greater than the sentence guidelines anyway, based on a general review of Davila’s entire record.

But the judge also said the case “rather dramatically illustrates the artificiality of the guidelines’ philosophy, when one conviction could produce such a dramatic difference in the guidelines.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.
com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.

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