The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

December 5, 2013

Court backs jail term for drug dealer

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — A former Farrell man serving a sentence for drug deals lost an appeal to get out from under a 10-year mandatory prison term.

Donta J. Bell, 27, pleaded guilty to distribution and possession of 50 grams or more of crack cocaine with intent to distribute for selling a total of 6 1/2 ounces of crack for $5,250 to informants in two deals in 2007 in Farrell.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Lancaster, Pittsburgh, sentenced Bell on Oct. 28, 2008, to 11 years, 3 months in prison, followed by 5 years’ supervised release. Lancaster sentenced Bell at the lowest end of advisory sentencing guidelines.

Bell filed a motion for a sentencing reduction based on the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, in which Congress determined that sentences for crack cocaine offenses were out of whack when compared with sentences for powder cocaine offenses. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reduced the penalties for many crack crimes.

Bell asked for his prison term to be reduced to 7 years, 3 months, the minimum guidelines sentence he would face for the same crimes and criminal history today.

Lancaster said he sympathized with Bell’s argument, but said two factors are against him. Case law has established that Bell is not entitled to a full resentencing, and he could not get around that he was subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence at the time of his original sentencing, even though the mandatory minimum for the amount of crack Bell admitted dealing has been reduced to 5 years since Bell entered his plea.

Lancaster reduced Bell’s sentence by 15 months to 10 years in prison.

In an opinion filed Tuesday, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia, agreed with Lancaster that Bell’s asked-for sentence of 7 years, 3 months could not apply because he was convicted and sentenced before Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act.