Darlene Eckles

Darlene Eckles

Darlene was sentenced in 2007 to nearly 20 years in prison for her minor involvement in her brother’s drug dealing. Her sentence was reduced from 235 months to 188 months in 2010 under the Sentencing Commission’s retroactive crack amendment, and then again to 155 months under the 2011 retroactive crack guideline amendment. She was released in December 2014.

Update: On March 4, 2010, Judge Richard Voorhees reduced Darlene’s sentence from 235 months to 188 months under the retroactive crack amendment created by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in November 2007. On August 23, 2012 Judge Voorhees further reduced Darlene’s sentence to 151 months under the 2011 retroactive crack guideline amendment.  She was released from federal prison in December of 2014.

Darlene, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender, was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for her minor involvement in her brother’s drug dealing.

Darlene and her five siblings were raised by her mother in Statesville, NC. At age 16, Darlene became pregnant, but was determined to finish her last two years of high school. After her graduation in 1982, Darlene started working full-time. When she saved up enough money, she and her daughter moved to the nearby town of Harmony. Darlene remained close with her siblings and eventually settled in the house next door to her sister.

Darlene’s brother Rick began selling drugs in the late 1980s. Darlene had experimented with marijuana as a teenager, but swore it off completely in her twenties to focus on work and raising her daughter. However, Rick continued to plunge deeper into the drug world. After his release from North Carolina state prison in 1999 for drug-related offenses, he was put under regular police surveillance.

Despite Rick’s drug dealing, he and Darlene remained close. When Rick became homeless in 2002 after a falling out with his girlfriend, Darlene’s mother asked Darlene to let Rick move in with her. Darlene was hesitant, but finally agreed that Rick could stay if he did not sell or use drugs inside her home. Rick stayed with Darlene for six months, but did not respect his sister’s wishes, regularly using and selling drugs inside her house.

During these six months, Darlene was taking college courses and working full-time to support her children. Her involvement in Rick’s conspiracy included counting money for him and allowing money to be dropped off at her home. In exchange, Rick gave Darlene grocery money and paid her electrical bill. Finally, Darlene became fed up with her brother’s drug use and asked her sister to let Rick move in with her. She agreed and Rick lived with his other sister until his arrest.

In July 2004, Darlene earned her Certified Nursing Assistant license from Mitchell College and found steady employment in nursing homes. On January 25, 2005, police conducted a controlled buy of 4 ½ ounces of cocaine from Rick at Marlene’s residence. On February 2, Rick sold officers 4 ½ ounces of crack cocaine from Darlene’s house without her knowledge. Rick was arrested at a traffic stop on February 21 in possession of two kilograms of cocaine and several pounds of marijuana. That night, Darlene came home from work to find her house being searched by authorities. She was placed under arrest.

Darlene was indicted in a 37-person conspiracy involving nine of her family members. She was initially charged with possession of crack cocaine. Darlene took her case to trial and was found guilty of possessing less than five grams of crack. During Darlene’s trial, witnesses testified that Darlene was almost never present when Rick conducted drug business – she was either at work, school, or church. When Darlene was home, she was typically asleep or in a different room. Many of Darlene’s codefendants testified that they had never purchased drugs from her and knew that she was opposed to any drug sales or use inside her home. Darlene was ultimately held accountable for 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine.

Despite her limited role in the offense and the fact that she was a first-time, nonviolent offender, Darlene was sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison. Darlene’s sister, Marlene, who allowed Rick to deal drugs out of her home for a much longer period of time than Darlene had, received probation.

Since her incarceration, Darlene has taken employment courses and a typing class. She is the section leader of her prison’s choir and a leader on her facility’s dance team. Her 73-year-old mother is now the sole caregiver for Darlene’s 8-year-old son and has had to start working at a hotel to support him.

The Facts: Darlene Eckles
: 19 years, 7 months (resentenced to 12 years, 7 months)*
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, cocaine base and marijuana
Priors: None
Year sentenced: 2007
Age at sentencing: 43
Projected release date: December 20, 2014