When it comes to sentencing and motions for downward departure, judges hear it all.
Denzil White was in D.C. federal court on drug charges last month, and his lawyer made standard arguments about remorse, acceptance of responsibility, and a lack of criminal history. Dani Jahn, an assistant federal public defender, also pointed out that White had remained out of trouble during the decade he had just spent on the run.
A government prosecutor scoffed.
“While the government appreciates that the defendant appears to have avoided any interaction with any law enforcement agency since his flight from this jurisdiction … the fact remains that he was a fugitive for over nine years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Arvind Lal wrote in a court filing. “Mr. White’s conduct warrants a term of incarceration.”
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina sentenced White, who has changed his last name to Morson, to three years in prison. White, 42, has taken his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. No argument date is set.
White’s criminal case goes back to November 1998, when law enforcement served a search warrant in the 1600 block of Connecticut Avenue N.W. White and two other men were arrested on charges that included marijuana trafficking. Vowing to cooperate with the government, White took a plea deal just months after his arrest.
But sometime before March 1999 White took off, leaving the country to attend his ailing mother in Great Britain, court records show. He had tested positive for marijuana and was due in court for a sanctions hearing.
Nearly a decade passed. Late last year, White was arrested when he arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport.
His lawyer, Jahn, argued in district court last month that White stayed out of trouble for the nine years he remained abroad. A sentence of time served—since White’s arrest at Dulles—was sufficient, the lawyer argued. White vowed not to return to the United States for the rest of his life.
“He does not pose a danger to the public in the United States or anywhere else,” Jahn wrote in a motion for downward departure. “In fact, Mr. Morson demonstrated that within the past nine years he has completely rehabilitated himself to become a productive and law-abiding member of his community.”
The prosecution noted in court papers that charges against White’s marijuana supplier were dropped because White was not around to testify.