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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a mandatory five-year prison term for a 17-year career Army veteran, with a sterling record of service in Iraq, based on his conviction of delivering two ounces of crack cocaine for a cousin in Alabama. The decision invalidates an 11-day sentence imposed on Sgt. Patrick Lett by U.S. District Judge William H. Steele. Steele imposed the time-served sentence in 2006 after he learned from an Ohio State University law student, and Army buddy of Lett’s, that the law permitted a sentence below the mandatory term. U.S. v. Lett, No. 06-12537. [Read the 11th Circuit decision.] Student Matthew Sinor, 33, attended the sentencing hearing and pointed out in a letter to Steele what Lett’s attorney neglected to do, that the “safety valve” protection in the law allows the court to drop below mandatory minimums in exceptional cases such as Lett’s. For Lett this was a first offense, a non-violent crime and he dropped his drug dealing and re-enlisted in the Army. Judge Ed Carnes wrote that Steele’s correction of his error did not fit into the constrained limits for correcting erroneous sentences.

Related: Military service as a mitigating factor debated

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