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CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Keith Wright made a mistake more than 20 years ago. But he believed that mistake shouldn’t cost him the rest of his life—and neither did Womble Carlyle attorney Claire Rauscher.
Last week, after working on Wright’s case since 2005, Rauscher completed obtaining a full release for her client.
In 1996, Wright was charged, along with six other defendants, with conspiring to possess and sell crack cocaine. He was found guilty of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine (only four ounces) and the conspiracy count resulted in hung verdict, which was not retried.
However, due to federal sentencing guidelines at the time, Wright was found responsible for the entire amount sold by the other members of the conspiracy. Due to the drug weight, he was sentenced to life without parole.
Wright reached out to Rauscher, then the Federal Public Defender for Western North Carolina, in 2005 and asked for her help. She had counsel appointed for him, and after his first motion under the crack cocaine sentencing reduction law was denied, she agreed to review the court’s ruling. With the assistance of a federal probation officer, Rauscher convinced the court that the drug weight found was in error and Wright was entitled to a sentencing reduction. The court agreed and reduced his life sentence to 30 years.
After joining Womble Carlyle, Rauscher continued to work on Wright’s case. She obtained another sentencing reduction based on his cooperation with authorities, and his sentence was lowered to 270 months in 2013. Wright was released from prison in June 2014 after serving 19 ½ years in prison and began serving five years of supervised probation.
Then, on Jan. 27th, Judge Frank Whitney granted Rauscher’s request for early termination of supervision, meaning Wright’s sentence is now fully satisfied. He now is a free man able to travel wherever he wishes and continue his life.
Since his release, Wright has made a successful transition to life outside of prison. He has obtained full-time employment, and his employer reports “He is an excellent employee; I would love to have a few more just like him”. Wright also preaches to youth on the weekends.