United States v. Black, No. 20-2314 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Black, a corrupt Chicago police officer, participated in a scheme to take resell drugs and weapons found during police work. In 2007, Black was convicted of conspiracies to engage in racketeering, drug distribution, and robbery, and two counts of using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)). Black was sentenced to a total of 40 years’ imprisonment.
The 2018 First Step Act significantly lowered the mandatory minimums for 924(c) convictions. Today, Black’s mandatory minimum sentence would be 10 years. In 2020, Black sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3852(c)(1)(A), arguing that his cancer and chemotherapy meant he faced an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. The court denied the motion, reasoning that Black had not shown that his cancer was terminal or chronic or that he was at risk of contracting COVID-19 and that the section 3553(a) factors weighed against early release. The Seventh Circuit subsequently held that the “extraordinary and compelling reasons” issue was, under the First Step Act, no longer governed by the Sentencing Commission’s policy statements that the district court relied upon.
The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded the denial of Black’s motion. The district court did not consider statutory changes, reflecting a substantially different view of section 924(c) violations; the alternative 3553(a) rationale does not render the error harmless.