Press Release September 17, 2020

Goodwin and Last Prisoner Project Secure Compassionate Release for Philong Chuong Following Five Years in Prison for Cannabis-Related Incident

On September 4, 2020, after serving five years in prison for a cannabis-related infraction, Philong Chuong returned home to his family as a result of a compassionate release secured by global law firm Goodwin and Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing restorative justice to those who have suffered under cannabis criminalization as more U.S. states move to full legalization. A Goodwin pro bono team led by Cannabis and White Collar Defense + Government Investigations partner Jennifer Fisher began partnering with LPP in the fight to free Chuong in July 2020, as COVID-19 ravaged his prison facility and put his life at significant risk. 

Chuong, a 57-year-old father of two, came to the U.S. as a refugee during the Vietnam War, then worked tirelessly to create a life for himself and his family in Oakland, California, including building a local construction business. He became a pillar of his community, known for his selflessness, compassion, and determination. 

In 2015, he was sentenced to 87 months in prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and money laundering. He received a substantially longer sentence than those given to his co-defendants, despite Chuong neither being the mastermind nor the instigator of the charged conspiracy, and having no history of criminal activity or violence.

This year, while Chuong served his sentence at USP Atwater, COVID-19 spread through the facility and put his life in danger. Goodwin filed a motion for Chuong’s immediate release in the Western District of Pennsylvania, citing this immediate and grave risk to his life. During Chuong’s incarceration, he developed a litany of medical conditions that compromised his immune system and placed him at a heightened risk for complications if he contracted the coronavirus, and the facility staff were not taking adequate measures to protect him, Goodwin argued. 

Goodwin submitted evidence demonstrating Chuong’s record of good behavior and character before and during his incarceration, presenting numerous letters of support from his community. One such letter from the Minister of the Lakeside Temple of Practical Christianity in Oakland lauded Chuong for his generosity and hard work in making repairs at the Temple before he was incarcerated, and informed the court that they would welcome him back and help him after his release.
 
Goodwin argued that Chuong not only received a disproportionately long sentence — of which he had already served the majority — but was also convicted of an offense involving the distribution and sale of cannabis, which has since been legalized in 33 states, including Pennsylvania, where he was sentenced, and California, where he lived.

After evaluating Goodwin’s arguments and all of the supporting evidence, the court granted the motion for Chuong’s release, allowing him to return to Oakland and reunite with his family. The court found that the increased risk of severe complications if Mr. Chuong contracted COVID-19 due to his medical conditions, the time he had already served in prison, his lack of criminal history and his post-offense rehabilitation efforts, among other factors, warranted his release.  

The Goodwin team led by Fisher included Hayes Hyde, Parker Reed, Luiza Coelho, David Rapp-Kirshner, Linh Ho, Katelyn Cidlevich, Kimberly Martin, and Jose Valdes. 

Goodwin is partnering with LPP to help seven individuals, involving more than 20 Goodwin lawyers seeking justice for those incarcerated under outdated cannabis-related laws.

Each year, through Goodwin’s Pro Bono initiative, its lawyers dedicate more than 65,000 hours to help individuals and nonprofit organization that might not otherwise be able to afford legal assistance.

LPP is a coalition of cannabis industry leaders, executives and artists dedicated to bringing restorative justice to the cannabis industry. LPP is dedicated to releasing cannabis prisoners and helping them rebuild their lives. As the United States moves away from the criminalization of cannabis, giving rise to a major new industry, there remains the fundamental injustice inflicted upon those who have suffered criminal convictions and the consequences of those convictions. Through intervention, advocacy and awareness campaigns, the forces behind the Last Prisoner Project will work to redress the past and continuing harms of these unjust laws and policies and are dedicated to making sure that every last victimless cannabis prisoner walks free. Visit www.LastPrisonerProject.org or text FREEDOM to 24365 to donate and learn more.