Judge finds Warren inmate eligible for early release program; refuses to grant it

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U.S. Judge Christopher A. Boyko took into consideration the crime as well as the amount of drugs that Lachon Phillips had at the time

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A federal judge agreed a Warren man was eligible to be considered for early release under an initiative signed by President Donald Trump last year for drug offenders. He declined to grant it because of his past record, however.

U.S. Judge Christopher A. Boyko ruled that he would not grant Lachon Phillips, 42, and early release from prison because he was previously convicted of a major drug felony and he also admitted to having over 280 grams of crack cocaine.

Phillips pleaded guilty in June 2007 to one count of possession with intent to distribute 365.3 grams of crack cocaine. He was sentenced to 19 and a half years in prison plus 10 years supervised release.

President Trump signed the First Step Act into law in December of 2018, which reduces mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine offenses and allows defendants who were imprisoned to ask for an early release. In Phillips’ case, a mandatory sentence of 10 years to life in prison is applied if a defendant admits to having more than 280 grams of crack cocaine.

Phillips was charged after he was arrested in 2006 when Warren police who were working a Drug Enforcement Administration detail received word from a confidential source that Phillips would be leaving a Lener Street SW home with a large amount of crack cocaine.

Authorities surveilled the house and saw Phillips leave. He ran when they tried to pull him over, and he was eventually caught after a foot chase.

At his feet were several plastics filled with what was later determined to be crack cocaine.

Phillips applied in March for an early release. Prosecutors disagreed that Phillips was eligible for release because of the amount of drugs he pleaded guilty to possessing, while Phillips maintained that he was indicted for possessing 50 grams or more of crack.

Judge Boyko ruled that Phillips is eligible to be considered for the First Step Act because other courts have held that defendants are eligible to participate because of the amount of cocaine in the indictment, not the amount they pleaded guilty to possessing.

However, Judge Boyko ruled that the First Step Act also gives him discretion, because he already had been convicted of a major drug felony and was designated a career offender. Judge Boyko wrote that if Phillips were sentenced today, he would receive the same sentence.

The judge said he also took into consideration the amount of drugs Phillips admitted to having. While that doesn’t preclude him from being eligible for the First Step Act, a judge is allowed to factor in the amount of drugs when they contemplate sentencing.

Judge Boyko did agree to lower the time of supervised release in the case from 10 years to eight.

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