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United States v. Stone

United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

October 22, 2019



          John A. Jarvey, Chief Judge United States District Court

         This case is before the court on the defendant's July 24, 2019, Motion For Compassionate Release Pursuant To 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) [Dkt. No. 146]. The defendant filed sealed electronic exhibits [Dkt. No. 147] in support of his Motion on July 26, 2019. On July 30, 2019, the government filed its Resistance To Stone's Motion For Compassionate Release [Dkt. No. 148]. On August 5, 2019, the defendant first filed a Supplement To [Defendant's] Motion For Compassionate Release [Dkt. No. 149], then filed a Response To Government's Resistance To Stone's Motion For Compassionate Release [Dkt. No. 150]. On August 12, 2019, the government filed a Resistance To Stone's Supplement To Motion For Compassionate Release [Dkt. No. 151]. On August 20, 2019, the defendant filed his Response To Government's Resistance To [Defendant's] Supplement To Motion For Compassionate Release [Dkt. No. 154]. On October 7, 2019, the government filed a Supplement To The Resistance To Stone's Motion For Compassionate Release [Dkt. No. 156]. The defendant filed no timely reply to the government's last filing. For the reasons stated below, the defendant's July 24, 2019, Motion For Compassionate Release Pursuant To 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) [Dkt. No. 146] is DENIED.


         A. Factual Background

         As is too often the case, there is a very real risk that the substantive issues presented by defendant Daniel Lee Stone's Motion For Compassionate Release will become lost in or overshadowed by a complicated procedural history resulting from successive revelations about whether and how Stone's request was first submitted to and addressed by the Bureau Of Prisons (BOP). Because the court concludes that substantive issues are ultimately dispositive, it will begin this decision with the factual background, including both facts supporting Stone's request for compassionate release[1] and facts leading to his imprisonment in the first place.

         1. Factual basis for compassionate release

         Stone's wife underwent back surgery in 2013. She is currently awaiting further surgery for her back arising from the discovery of a very serious situation that her surgeon states, in a supporting letter, could have serious and irreversible consequences if not corrected. Thus, the surgeon asserts that it is in her best interest to have the surgery as soon as possible. Nevertheless, Stone asserts that his wife has already delayed this surgery three times, because she has no family members or loved ones who can care for her during the 3- to 4-month period of recuperation. The Stones' two children and another family member submitted letters explaining why they are unable to provide care, and Mrs. Stone submitted a letter explaining that no other family members are available. Defendant Stone asserts that, if granted home confinement and a GPS bracelet for the remainder of his term, he would be able to provide full-time care for his wife and might also be able to work from home, so that he can complete his restitution plan.

         2. Factual basis for Stone's conviction

         Stone is now in prison following his conviction for cyberstalking. As set out in the presentence investigation report (PSR), a police investigation arose from approximately 116 text messages that Stone sent a 16-year-old girl, who was a classmate of his daughter, between the evening of October 31, 2016, and November 1, 2016. The girl's mother called law enforcement officers to the girl's residence on November 1, 2016, because they were afraid that the person sending the texts was on the property or even in the house.

         The messages stated that the sender knew the girl's address and accurately described things in her house, referred to one of the girl's friends, talked about her being a “sugar baby, ” offered her a car and money, referenced oral sex and having a “threesome, ” and indicated that the sender knew a lot of personal information about the girl and her mother.[2]Additional text messages were sent from the same phone number shortly after the law enforcement officers left the girl's residence and included statements that the sender was watching the girl and knew where she was. The girl repeatedly requested that the sender stop texting or harassing her and made clear that she was uncomfortable with the conversation. Ultimately, in a plea agreement, the defendant admitted to sending over 170 text messages to the girl. The girl and her mother stayed at a hotel on the night of November 2, 2016, because they feared for their physical safety.

         Investigation by law enforcement officers eventually revealed that the sender's phone number was a “spoofed” number related to the subscriber's phone without the other party knowing who the sender was or revealing the true number of the subscriber's phone. Eventually, the account used to “spoof” the number and the relevant cellphone numbers were linked to Stone. The investigation also revealed that the texts originated from Ohio, during a time when Stone was there on a business trip, from a cell tower close to his hotel.

         B. Criminal Proceedings

         1. Indictment and pretrial release

         Stone was indicted on June 21, 2017, for cyberstalking in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2261A(2)(B) and 2261(b). He was detained after his arrest and initial appearance on July 5, 2017, but at a detention hearing on July 7, 2017, the government's motion for detention was denied, and Stone was released on his own recognizance with conditions. Those conditions included, among others, travel restrictions, avoiding all contact with the minor victim and her family, electronic monitoring (an ankle bracelet), and communication monitoring. Stone's conditions of release were thereafter modified several times to allow him to travel out of state briefly, including for his wife's medical treatment, but a request for removal of his ankle bracelet was denied.

         On April 30, 2018, Stone pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement. The plea agreement provided that, in exchange for Stone's guilty plea, the government would request a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility and would not argue for a sentence above 24 months of incarceration, while Stone would be allowed to argue for probation. Stone remained on pretrial release after his guilty plea. Eventually, Stone was allowed to take employment in Texas and to discontinue GPS location monitoring, but he remained subject to other forms of location monitoring.

         The PSR indicates that there was one incident while Stone was on pretrial release that warrants mention, here. On May 26, 2018, law enforcement officers were called to a local restaurant where the minor victim worked and was then on duty, because the victim had seen Stone and his family dining at the restaurant. The law enforcement officers were advised that Stone was subject to a federal no-contact order barring his contact with the victim or her family. The victim reported that Stone had made eye contact with her, causing her to take refuge in the manager's office until her mother arrived. The victim also reported that Stone's daughter had been at the restaurant a few days earlier and that she had had contact with the victim at that time. When law enforcement officers spoke with Stone, he indicated that he was not subject to a federal no-contact order but to a pretrial restriction on contact with the victim and her family, he denied making eye contact with the victim, and he stated that he did not know the victim worked there, but he and his family agreed to leave. No request for revocation or modification of Stone's conditions of release followed this incident.

         2. Sentencing

         Stone's sentencing hearing was on January 9, 2019. After a reduction for acceptance of responsibility, the court found that Stone's total offense level was 17 and his criminal history category was III, which suggested a range of imprisonment between 30 and 37 months. Stone argued that his criminal conduct in this case had been based on what he thought was a slight to his daughter, to which he had an unwarranted protective reaction, and that the incident had resulted from a relapse of drinking during the trip to Ohio, but he asserted that he then stopped the harassment of his own accord. Among other mitigating issues, Stone pointed to his exemplary conduct while on pretrial release, despite the loss of his job in Iowa as the result of publicity about his arrest and the loss of his subsequent job in Texas because of an anonymous letter to his employer. He also asserted that, if he was sentenced to home confinement, he could continue working and providing care for his wife; in the alternative, he sought a sentence of probation.

         After Stone's allocution, the court heard statements from both the victim and her mother. They explained the substantial negative effects that Stone's harassment had on the victim in terms of her school work, social and athletic activities, and mental health, as well as the impact on the victim's mother's employment that resulted from absences to help her daughter. The victim's mother requested that Stone receive the maximum available sentence. The government, however, adhered to the plea agreement by requesting a sentence of 24 months of imprisonment.

         After considering all the relevant factors, the court sentenced Stone to 18 months of imprisonment with one year of supervised release to follow. The court allowed Stone the privilege of self-surrender. The court left the record open at that time for evidence concerning restitution.

         Stone filed a Motion To Reopen Sentencing on January 11, 2019, based on the lack of prior notice that the victim and her mother would be making statements to the court at sentencing. Stone filed a Notice Of Appeal on January 23, 2019. The court denied Stone's request to reopen the sentencing on February 1, 2019. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Stone's request for release pending appeal in an Order filed February 8, 2019. On March 12, 2019, on Stone's motion, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his appeal. On April 29, 2019, the court ordered restitution in the amount of $1, 500 to the victim.

         C. The Present Motion

         As noted at the outset of this Order, the procedural history is complicated by successive revelations about whether and how Stone's request was first submitted to and addressed by the Bureau Of Prisons (BOP). Stone filed his Motion For Compassionate Release Pursuant To 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) on July 24, 2019, but he did not make any representations concerning exhaustion of administrative procedures. At the time he filed his Motion, Stone had served approximately 5 months of his 18-month sentence. In his Motion, Stone does argue that the court should grant his motion for compassionate release and allow him to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement, as well as any other relief that is equitable under the circumstances.

         In its July 30, 2019, Resistance, the government's initial argument was that Stone failed to exhaust administrative procedures and, in fact, failed to make any compassionate release request at all to the warden of the facility where he is imprisoned prior to filing his Motion. The government also asserted that Stone could not meet the standards for compassionate release, even if he had satisfied the administrative prerequisites.

         In a Supplement, filed August 5, 2019, Stone clarified that he had written a letter to the warden on April 8, 2019, which he placed into the prison's interfacility mail system on April 11, 2019, and that he then sent the warden an email on April 12, 2019, confirming that he had sent his request for compassionate release. He asserted that he followed up with an email to the warden on May 14, 2019, pointing out that the deadline for a response had expired and informing the warden that he would be filing a motion for compassionate release with this court. Stone also asserted that he had met the standards for a compassionate release. In his Response To Government's Resistance, also filed on August 5, 2019, Stone reiterated that he had met the administrative exhaustion requirements and carried his burden to show that he was entitled to compassionate release, cross-referencing his Supplement. Therefore, Stone reiterated his request that the court grant his motion for compassionate release on the same conditions he had previously requested.

         Stone's Response To Government's Resistance was not the end of the briefing on either procedural or substantive issues presented by his Motion, however. On August 12, 2019, the government filed its Resistance To Stone's Supplement. In it, the government argued that information received from the facility where Stone is imprisoned indicates that the email addresses to which Stone sent his emails to the warden did not result in those emails being directed to the warden and, furthermore, that the warden's email address, which is given to inmates, was not used. The government also asserted that the BOP had found no evidence of any package mailed to the warden or logged as received at the warden's office. The government then explained the extensive administrative procedures and ...

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