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January 20, 2005 - The Buffalo News (NY)

Thanks To High Court, Drug Defendant Gets 2nd Chance

Young Woman Struggling to Turn Life Around Benefits As Judge Uses Recently Granted Discretion on Sentencing

By Dan Herbeck, News Staff Reporter

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Blakely News Archive

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara gave a huge break Wednesday to a 21-year-old drug defendant from Youngstown.

It almost certainly could not have happened before last week's landmark Supreme Court decision giving federal judges freedom from sentencing guidelines.

Jamie Lynn Chilberg, a college student who joined a drug treatment program and turned her life around after a September 2003 smuggling arrest, is among the first people in the nation to benefit from the Supreme Court's Jan. 12 ruling.

Instead of the two-year minimum sentence the guidelines suggested, Arcara sentenced Chilberg to "time spent" - the one day she already served in jail after the arrest. She will also spend three years on supervised release and will be required to speak at local high schools three times each year.

"For the life of me, I can't see how any period of incarceration could benefit this young woman," Arcara said. "In many ways, I find what she has done to be remarkable."

Arcara noted that before the Supreme Court decision, he would have been mandated to send Chilberg to prison for 24 to 30 months.

Smiling and wiping away tears, Chilberg left the courtroom thanking Arcara and the Supreme Court for giving her a second chance.

"I think this decision could benefit a lot of people in my situation, all over the country," she said. "It gave the judge an opportunity to consider other alternatives to putting me in prison for two years."

In a long-awaited decision, the nation's highest court ruled last week that judges are no longer required to follow sentencing guidelines when determining the punishment for people convicted in federal court. The guidelines are now to be viewed in an advisory role only.

Chilberg was 19 on Sept. 18, 2003, when Department of Homeland Security inspectors at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls found 954 MDMA pills - better known as Ecstasy - in her car.

Chilberg, then a heavy user of alcohol, cocaine and other drugs, was acting as a "mule," delivering the Ecstasy for drug traffickers, defense attorney Herbert L. Greenman said. Defense attorneys have complained for years that federal sentencing guidelines were too harsh on people who were caught delivering drugs.

Under a plea deal reached last year, Chilberg was required to cooperate in a continuing investigation. Greenman said she has also obtained a full-time waitressing job and has worked hard in studies at Niagara County Community College. She also stopped using drugs and entered a voluntary drug treatment program, he said.

"She's never blamed anyone but herself for what happened, and she's determined to put drugs behind her," Greenman said.

Despite catching a break from the judge, Chilberg now has a felony conviction on her record for importing drugs from Canada.

Chilberg sobbed as she told Arcara of the pain that her legal difficulties and drug problems caused for her family. Outside the courtroom, she told a reporter that she hopes to get a four-year college degree and go into business or law.

"I was wrong," she said. "I'm trying to be the best person I can be."

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