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Pro Bono Client Is Released From Prison After Successful Resentencing

Paul, Weiss achieved a major victory on behalf of a pro bono client, Duane Joseph Johnson, when Judge Michael Ryan of the D.C. Superior Court resentenced our client from a term of 51 years to life in prison (with 40 years mandatory) to time served. Mr. Johnson was released within the day, having served just under 26 years of his initial sentence.

Mr. Johnson was convicted in 1995 of first-degree murder and related offenses, based on an incident that occurred when he was 17 years old. Paul, Weiss has represented him since 2017 on a motion for relief under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA), which allows prisoners in the District of Columbia to move for resentencing if they committed their offenses as juveniles and have served over 15 years. Under IRAA, judges may grant motions for resentencing after considering several factors, which include the defendant’s participation in the prison’s educational programming, the defendant’s disciplinary record, and the defendant’s maturity and fitness to reenter society since conviction.

During his time in prison, Mr. Johnson focused on education and self-improvement. He took advantage of over a thousand credit hours of educational programming offered to him. He immersed himself in the law and became so knowledgeable that a witness who appeared on his behalf—herself an attorney—testified that, on at least one occasion, he was able to point her to a statute that she was unable to locate herself. He had a near-spotless disciplinary record; and in recent years, he found and developed his Jewish faith. Mr. Johnson also has maintained an extremely close relationship with his family, despite having spent the entirety of his adult life behind bars. At his resentencing hearing, the court noted that his family support network was the strongest he had ever seen, and expressed optimism that Mr. Johnson would be able to navigate the challenges of re-integrating into the community given those ties. With this in mind, the judge resentenced him to time served with five years unsupervised probation. After more than 25 years of incarceration, he walked out of jail on Friday night a free man.

In addition to the motion under IRAA, Paul, Weiss has represented Mr. Johnson on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which has been pending for many years in the federal courts.

The Paul, Weiss team was led by litigation counsel Michelle Parikh, supervised by partner Alex Oh, and included associates Amanda Sterling, Grace Tiedemann and Samuel Prose.

February 7, 2020

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