No, Changpeng Zhao isn’t in prison yet — here’s why

Due to some formalities in the criminal justice system, a world-class team of lawyers, and Fifth Amendment protections of due process, former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao isn’t yet in prison despite receiving a four-month sentence.

On April 30, 2024, a US district judge in Seattle sentenced Zhao to four months at Seatac, an administrative security federal detention center and prison. According to the judge’s signed judgment, Zhao “shall surrender for service of sentence as notified by the Probation or Pretrial Services Office.” Those offices have not yet notified Zhao that he must enter that California prison.

Possibilities for sentenced criminals who don’t immediately go to prison

According to federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 3585(a), a criminal’s sentence begins when that person is ‘received in custody awaiting transportation to, or voluntarily surrenders to, the official detention facility at which her sentence is to be served.’ Although that sentence can begin immediately on the day of sentencing, there are three possibilities for delay.

  1. A judge might force a defendant to first surrender to the US Marshalls, who may then escort or later notify the criminal of when to physically go to prison.
  2. A judge might authorize the Probation or Pretrial Services Office to notify the defendant of their prison entry date.
  3. The judge might allow a defendant to voluntarily go to prison. Judges usually reserve this option for defendants with the shortest sentence or the lowest likelihood of fleeing.

Zhao received the second judgment type. Because he wasn’t sentenced to a multi-year prison sentence, US Marshalls didn’t immediately take him into custody. Instead, the judge gave Zhao the second-most lenient path. He awaits notice by the Probation or Pretrial Services Office.

Zhao is still listed as ‘not in BOP custody.’

So, why has the office not yet notified Zhao to go to Seatac?

By law, the Bureau of Prisons is required to contemplate the following items prior to designating a criminal to prison. If the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t complete this analysis, a criminal’s lawyers can appeal to the court for a reduced sentence on due process grounds.

  • The resources of the facility contemplated
  • The nature and circumstances of the offense
  • The offender’s history and characteristics
  • Any statement by the court that imposed the sentence recommending a type of facility as appropriate
  • Any pertinent policy statement issued by the US Sentencing Commission

In short, the ultimate reason Zhao isn’t in prison yet is because the US Constitution guarantees due process. The Fifth Amendment provides this protection to all persons within the US, including non-citizen occupants. This simple guarantee and its extensive, multi-century interpretive guidance by the US court system, provides redress for anyone ‘deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’

Read more: 3AC founder Su Zhu says prison ‘good for you’ after four-month stay

Not obvious enough to complete statutory work before sentencing

Some criminals go immediately to prison on the day of their sentencing. These are typically straightforward proceedings when it is obvious that the criminal will serve a sentence. When it’s nearly guaranteed beforehand, the Bureau of Prisons is able to complete its statutory obligations before the sentencing hearing and know, in advance, whether a particular cell within a particular prison is appropriate for immediate occupancy by that defendant.

Before Zhao’s hearing, however, no one actually knew for certain whether the US District Judge would sentence him to prison. There were last-minute pleadings, hundreds of letters, and even secondary markets for gambling on the length of his sentence.

Because of this uncertainty, there was no reason for the Bureau of Prisons to complete its exhaustive, statutory obligations of double-checking the appropriateness of a particular cell at Seatac for CZ.

Read more: Binance founder Changpeng Zhao sentenced to 4 months in prison

Zhao having seven criminal defense lawyers couldn’t hurt

Moreover, Zhao employed a remarkable ensemble of lawyers who rank among the best money could buy. His counsel consists of not one, not three, not five, but seven lawyers plus untold paralegal and on-call staff across three world-class law firms: Latham & Watkins, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and Davis Wright Tremaine.

Without a doubt, high-powered lawyers were able to find every avenue possible to delay his prison term commencement so that Zhao would have time to fully prepare.

To be clear, Zhao will go to prison when the Probation or Pretrial Services Office of the US Bureau of Prisons notifies him. It’s been been conducting statutory reviews of the appropriateness of Seatac to Zhao’s individual circumstances to avoid any legal redress for failure to provide Constitutional due process.

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