University of Pittsburgh

David Harris on Drug Kingpin's Release From a Life Sentence -- After Less Than Seven Years

Publish Date/Time: 
October 23, 2012

Professor David Harris discussed how Donald Lyles, sentenced to life in prison in 2003 for helping to run one of the largest drug trafficking organizations in Western Pennsylvania, ended up serving less than seven years before he was released.  A federal judge reduced Lyles's sentence twice when he began to cooperate with prosecutors.  According to Professor Harris, virtually the only way to get a substantial reduction in a sentence is for the defendant to become a cooperating witness or informant, and drug kingpins will have much more information to give prosecutors than those lower in the organization would.  So greater benefits go to them.  “The whole federal sentencing system is set up so that the biggest breaks go to the worst offenders,” he said.

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