Whether someone provides “truthful information” to qualify for a reduced sentence under the safety valve is not up to the government, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held on August 21, 2020. U.S. v. Lima-Rivero, 19-10759 (5th Cir. Aug. 21, 2020). 

After pleading guilty to possession of methamphetamine, the defendant provided information to the government in an attempt for a lower sentence under the safety valve, which allows a court to go below a mandatory minimum sentence if a defendant meets several criteria.

One of those criteria is that the defendant must provide “all information and evidence [he has] concerning the offense” to the government. In this case, the DEA agent testified that the defendant was “less than forthcoming” and didn’t qualify for the safety valve. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied the safety valve, reasoning that “I think it’s up to the government to determine if the defendant has complied” with the safety valve provision.

But the judge was wrong: it’s not up to the government at all. Under 18 U.S.C. s. 3553(f)(5), it is the court’s responsibility to determine all the criteria for the safety valve. The Fifth Circuit said that the agents testimony wasn’t even based on fact but only “mere speculation,” and returned the case to the district court to determine for itself whether the safety valve applied.

About Dale Chappell

Dale Chappell is a staff writer for Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News magazines, whose writings on criminal justice issues have been quoted by national outlets such as the Washington Post and the Rutherford Institute. A 20-year career firefighter and paramedic, he turned to helping prisoners after seeing the tactics used by the government to make sure the U.S. stays ahead of every other country in imprisoning its citizens. He is a member of the National Lawyers Guild and has helped dozens of prisoners correct their wrongful sentences and convictions. He is the author of two books (so far) in conjunction with attorney Brandon Sample: WinningCites: Section 2255, A Handbook for Prisoners and Lawyers, and WinningCites: Attacking the Guilty Plea. He joins sentencing.net as an author with experience focusing on current trends in the federal courts on sentencing and postconviction issues.

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