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18 June 2008

Mayer Brown Wins Release of Wrongfully Incarcerated Prisoner

Thanks to the efforts of Mayer Brown partner Dan Himmelfarb and associate Andrew Brisker,  on June 16, 2008, the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued a writ of habeas corpus ordering the release of the firm's pro bono client, Angel Morales, who had spent almost 10 years in federal prison.

Mr. Morales, who is now 69 years old, pleaded guilty in 1997 to conspiracy to launder the proceeds of an illegal gambling business-a lottery-and was sentenced to 151 months of imprisonment. Mr. Morales' co-defendants, Efrain Santos and Benedicto Diaz, were also convicted of money-laundering offenses in connection with the operation of the same lottery.

Following their convictions, Santos and Diaz filed motions to vacate their sentences under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. While their motions were pending, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion reinterpreting the federal statute used in their convictions, rendering Mr. Morales and his co-defendants innocent. The district court allowed Santos and Diaz to benefit from this decision and released them from prison in late 2004 and early 2005, respectively. The government appealed those decisions to the Seventh Circuit and lost, and then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Mr. Morales, however, was not so fortunate. He, too, had attempted to seek relief under § 2255 and retained a lawyer to file the same motion for collateral relief as his co-defendants. The lawyer took Mr. Morales' money, but never filed the motion. By the time Mr. Morales and his family learned of the lawyer's deceit, the one-year statute of limitations had expired. Mr. Morales then filed a pro se motion from prison, explaining the circumstances of his late filing, and requesting relief under § 2255 or, in the alternative, a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. The district court, without holding a hearing on Morales' motion, denied his request for relief under § 2255 and transferred the case to the jurisdiction of Morales' incarceration for consideration under § 2241. That court also denied Morales' request for relief.  Mayer Brown handled the Seventh Circuit appeal, where former Mayer Brown associate Edmund Sauer argued, inter alia, that, like his co-defendants, Mr. Morales was actually innocent and therefore was entitled to be set free. The court rejected that claim, holding that, in light of the Supreme Court's decision to review the Seventh Circuit decision affirming the district court's release of Santos and Diaz, Mr. Morales' claim was premature and therefore "in limbo."

On June 2, 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the Seventh Circuit's decision and the firm then filed a new petition for a writ of habeas corpus under § 2241 on Mr. Morales' behalf. On June 16, 2008, the district court granted the petition, holding that Mr. Morales was "innocent of the offense to which he pled guilty."

On June 17, 2008, Mr. Morales was reunited with his family and finally went home. In addition to Dan Himmelfarb, Andrew Brisker and former associate Edmund Sauer, partner Evan Tager also worked on this matter.


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