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Dealer Rolls Dice and Comes Up with Life

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A convicted felon who declined to take the advice of both his lawyer and the bench will serve a life sentence after the appeal of his 2018 drug rap fell short with judges in federal court. They ruled downstate dealer Dennis Jackson failed to prove his claim that the state’s decision not to produce the informant who filmed the buys that led to his arrest violated the Constitution’s Confrontation Clause and prejudiced the outcome of his jury trial. Jackson also sought to have the sentence overturned, given that it was applied less than a month before the federal government cut the term to 25 years under the so-called First Step reforms that were implemented in December. He claimed the district judge’s statement that he was bound by law to apply the life term implied Jackson would receive a lighter sentence as a non-violent offender if guidelines permitted.

Despite being warned that his priors promised life without parole, Jackson opted not to cop a plea after methamphetamines were found in his Harrisburg apartment. He was convicted in July and hung his appeal on the fact that prosecutors abused his 6th Amendment rights by letting the trial proceed without the presence of the informant, who’d been returned to jail just days before the start of proceedings after an escape. However, the three-member panel in the US Appeals Court for the Seventh Circuit cited case law showing the District Court Judge J. Phil Gilbert had acted properly in admitting the films into evidence and letting cops narrate what transpired. In addition to showing in court records that Jackson had taken the judge’s comment out of context, they added that the lighter jail term could not be applied retroactively even as the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act was signed into law 25 days after Jackson’s November sentencing because the reforms didn’t specify that intent.