CRIME STORY has received permission to re-print Michael Romano‘s newsletters from Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project whose mission is to reverse the most unjust criminal sentences. Romano and his colleague Susan Champion were interviewed by Amanda Knox for CRIME STORY and you can find the podcast and the transcript of that interview here. You can find a story about Romano’s participation in a U.S. Congressional field hearing on criminal justice reform here.


I am so happy to report that this morning the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver handed our client Malcolm McGee a MASSIVE victory—and set important precedent opening re-sentencing opportunities and “compassionate release” for federal prisoners across the country!

The issue before the court involved the First Step Act and availability of re-sentencing opportunities for people, like Malcolm, who would be serving much shorter sentences if convicted today. Read the opinion here.

Malcolm was sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole under the federal Three Strikes law for his part in a bungled, nonviolent drug crime he committed over 20 years ago. He has been z proverbial ‘model inmate,’ obtaining his GED, enrolling in college, earning ‘outstanding’ work performance ratings and promotions, and completing numerous rehabilitative programs—all despite the fact that he had no realistic chance that he’d ever be released. Until today!

We’ve been representing Malcolm for over 5 years, seeking relief in every venue we could imagine, including clemency proceedings before President Obama, federal habeas litigation, and most recently under the First Step Act. He is serving one of the harshest sentences ever imposed based in part because one of his prior “strike” offenses was reduced to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47.

There is no dispute that Malcolm would receive a substantially lower sentence by operation of law if convicted today. Despite this, and despite his outstanding record while incarcerated, federal prosecutors opposed his release—and last year a district court in Oklahoma ruled that it lacked authority to reconsider Malcolm’s sentence.

That changed today, thanks to our amazing students, Maddie Coles (’22) and Jeff Ho (’20), who helped brief Malcolm’s case in federal court, including in the 10th Circuit, and Project Deputy Director Susan Champion who argued the novel issue in the 10th Circuit last month. We are also hugely grateful to additional terrific former Project students Artemis Seaford (’17) and John Bonacorsi (’19), who worked on prior petitions on Malcolm’s behalf, setting the table for today’s victory, which formally reverses the district court’s decision and remands the case back to the trial court for Malcolm to present his case for release.

This is a tremendous victory and we hope more than a glimmer of hope for Malcom. The 10th Circuit’s opinion also opens the door for others to apply for re-sententencing consideration. We couldn’t be happier, or prouder—and we won’t stop fighting for Malcolm until he is freed.

MORE GREAT NEWS:

We are also extremely happy and proud to report that last week two of our former students won amazing victories in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and before the California Supreme Court.

First, Project alum Katherine Hubbard was one of the main architects and lawyers in last week’s landmark bail reform victory out of the California Supreme Court, In re Humphrey. The victory has been heralded as a “gigantic momentous decision,” which will prevent people from being held in jail just because they can’t afford bail. It’s a huge win for Katherine, the whole state, and our friends at Civil Rights Corps.

Also last week, Project alum Caitlin Weisberg won an important victory before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a police misconduct case out of Los Angeles. Caitlin and her firm represent family members of a man who was suspected of a nonviolent misdemeanor in 2016 and died shortly after being tased and punched by arresting officers. The Ninth Circuit ordered a new trial, finding that the trial court abused its discretion for, among other things, excluding chief of police’s own conclusion that the officers violated department policy. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion is here.

Congratulations to all!

– Mike