UCI law students secure compassionate release for 74-year-old veteran

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David Stringer was overcome with relief when he received the news he’d once again be a free man after more than 17 years in prison.

After a years-long legal battle for his freedom, UC Irvine law students were recently able to secure the compassionate release of the 74-year-old veteran.

“Now that I sit down, it just went by so fast, it doesn’t even seem like it’s been that long,” Stringer reflected on his time in prison. “But I lost a lot while I was locked up.”


Stringer was charged in 2001 for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. At that time, crimes related to crack cocaine carried heavier penalties than powder cocaine.

Many tie that sentencing inequity to socioeconomics and racism. Crack tended to be used by lower-income communities of color and powder cocaine was the drug of choice for wealthier, white communities.

At one point, crack sentences were 100 times harsher than for powder cocaine.

The court ultimately kept that in mind when approving Stringer’s compassionate release on Aug. 10. He was originally scheduled to be released on Sept. 5, 2021.

“We were able to develop a narrative for him which really almost wrote itself in that he was a veteran, he served his country and was honorably discharged,” said Julienne Pasichow, one of the two UCI law students who fought for Stringer’s compassionate release. “He found himself in the throes of addiction and that’s how this particular offense came to be.”

In its decision to reduce Stringer’s sentence to time served, the court took into account Stringer’s age, declining health and that his sentence was much longer than it would have been if he was convicted of the same crimes today.

Stringer was suffering from chronic hypertension, vascular dementia and high cholesterol.

In its decision, the court stated that Stringer “is experiencing a serious deterioration in physical and mental health because of the aging process ...”

Katie Tinto, director of the UCI Criminal Justice Clinic, said it was crucial that Stringer was released now because there’s a COVID-19 outbreak in the South Carolina prison where he was serving time.

“They were right on point with everything,” Stringer said of the UCI students. “I didn’t have to ask for anything, they were right there for me.”

Stringer fought for his freedom for many years.

A UCI professor first represented Stringer with a request for clemency under President Obama. That clemency petition sat pending for several years.

Then in 2018, Congress expanded compassionate release with the First Step Act. Under the bill, an inmate can bring their own motions for compassionate release if the Bureau of Prisons fails to make a timely decision on the matter. Prior to the bill, many sick and elderly inmates died in prison while waiting for a judgment by the bureau.

Pasichow, along with fellow law student Harrison Weimer, picked up Stringer’s case.

Weimer, who will graduate with Pasichow next year, said the experience was one of the best he’s had at UCI.

“This was a really cool and unique opportunity to work on something that was so real and affected real people ...” Weimer said. “This was a really rewarding experience. And it’s even better that it was a fantastic result.”

Stringer was considered a model inmate while in prison, even being admitted to a “trustee camp,” which is only reserved for the most trusted inmates, Pasichow said.

Stringer said one of his favorite ways to pass the time in prison was his music. He taught music theory to other inmates. At the beginning of each class the students would form a band with Stringer and play blues.

“We really had a good time with the music,” Stringer said. “A lot of them didn’t know they could play or they could read music as well as they could until the class got going.”

Stringer plays the trumpet, clarinet, tuba and baritone and french horns.

Stringer is going to be living with his daughter and grandchildren in North Carolina. He had plans to open up a Cajun food restaurant and a lounge with live entertainment, but COVID-19 has stalled that effort.

Once they are able to open up that restaurant, Stringer plans on performing the musical entertainment.

“But everything’s going good, I’m having a heck of a good time,” Stringer said, laughing. “I’m enjoying getting back into society.”

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