Supreme Court Says Wash. Man Got Excessive Prison Sentence

Jun 20, 2013

The United States Supreme Court decided Thursday that a Colville man received an excessive prison sentence when a federal judge overstepped his bounds.

The high court’s ruling was welcome news to Matthew Descamps’ family.

When KUOW reached Descamps’ 81-year-old mother, Virginia, by phone in Colville, she hadn’t yet heard the Supreme Court’s decision.

She breathed a sigh of relief.

"I’m just very grateful that the Supreme Court did the right thing," Virginia Descamps said.

She’s been waiting for five years for a final decision on her son’s appeal. "I have been extremely concerned over what happened in his trial," she said. "The judge was not correct in his decision."

In 2008, Matthew Descamps was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

During sentencing, federal prosecutors asked the judge to give Descamps extra time under what’s known as the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law that allows longer sentences for felons with three prior convictions for violent crimes.

One of Descamps’ three prior convictions was for burglary.

To determine whether Descamps’ burglary fit the definition of a “violent crime,” the sentencing judge researched the details of that 1978 conviction, and decided it fit the bill.

He sentenced Descamps to nearly 22 years in prison for possession of a firearm.

The Supreme Court has now ruled seven-to-one that the sentencing judge went too far by digging into the details of Descamps’ prior conviction.

Descamps is in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, but his mother said she isn’t able to travel to visit him.

A spokesman for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said a US District judge will decide whether to release her son, or just shorten his sentence.

"I hope he comes home before I die," Virginia Descamps said.