Shon Hopwood and Kopf’s terrible sentencing instincts

I had intended to write one post today as a follow-up to Gut instinct and sentencing–a challenge to federal criminal law practitioners. However, last night I saw something and I decided to write another post although on the same subject.

Shon Hopwood was a young man when I sentenced him to prison for a long time in the late 1990s.  Hopwood entered a guilty plea to five counts of bank robbery, and one count of using a firearm during a crime of violence. I sentenced Hopwood to 147 months in prison and concurrent terms of supervised release. I also ordered Hopwood to pay restitution in the sum of $134,544.22.

Yesterday, Tony Mauro wrote a story about Mr. Hopwood. Here is part of what Mauro wrote:

Unusual Law Clerk Hire for D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown

Shon Hopwood’s unique career in the law has taken a dramatic new turn. The onetime jailhouse lawyer who served time in federal prison for robbing banks has been hired as a 2014 law clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“I’m amazed at the opportunities and second chances I have been given,” said Hopwood Wednesday after returning home to Seattle from his interview with Brown on Monday. Hopwood said the judge offered him the job soon after the interview. “I quickly said yes.”

While in Washington, D.C. Hopwood, 38, also visited former solicitor general Seth Waxman, who has been something of a mentor to Hopwood for more than a decade. They made contact after a certiorari petition Hopwood wrote for a fellow inmate while in prison was granted review by the Supreme Court. The 2004 case was Fellers v. United States. Hopwood chronicled his experiences in the 2012 book Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption.

After a post-prison stint with Cockle Law Brief Printing Company in Nebraska, Hopwood has been a student for the last two years at University of Washington School of Law. Last summer he interned for a federal district court judge in Seattle, and this summer he has been working in the federal public defender’s office, also in Seattle. Hopwood said that partly because of the budget cuts caused by sequestration, he has appeared in court for sentencing and other proceedings more often than fellow students working at law firms. Hopwood is scheduled to graduate from law school next summer.

Three things:

    • Hopwood deserves all the credit in the world. I hope he makes the best of an astounding opportunity.
    • Janice Rogers Brown is a hero. Although pilloried by the left when she was appointed, the woman I came to know while serving on the Codes of Conduct Committee for six years is a stunning combination of brilliance and perfectly centered good judgment. She is also a wonderfully humble, kind and decent person.
    • Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck. When I sent him to prison, I would have bet the farm and all the animals that Hopwood would fail miserably as a productive citizen when he finally got out of prison. My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk–all mouth, and very little else.  My viscera was wrong.


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