Iowa Federal Judge Criticizes Harsh Methamphetamine Sentences

A Sioux City-based US district court judge has criticized harsh tough methamphetamine sentencing guidelines, writing in a recent opinion that he considers them "fundamentally flawed," not based on empirical evidence, and too harsh for low-level offenders.
Judge Mark Bennett (
US District Judge Mark Bennett of the Northern District of Iowa cut the sentence of a convicted Sioux City methamphetamine dealer from nearly 16 years to just more than six years, saying in his 44-page ruling that he has a "fundamental policy disagreement" with the meth portion of the federal sentencing guidelines.

"The methamphetamine guidelines are fundamentally flawed because they fail to consider additional factors beyond quantity," Bennett wrote in his Friday ruling in US v. Willie Hayes. "The system is too severe in the indiscriminate way it treats offenders… Since the methamphetamine guidelines are fundamentally flawed, I find that they fail to promote the purposes of sentencing" outlined in federal law.

Bennett has been a long-time critic of federal mandatory minimum sentencing, and in his ruling, he argued that meth sentencing guidelines seemed more based on politics than science and lacked the depth of other portions of the guidelines. Meth dealers are getting much harsher sentences than people convicted of selling heroin or cocaine, he noted.

Iowa defense attorneys consulted by the Des Moines Register said Bennett's ruling was "a very big deal."

"It is a very big deal, and it's also something that's been coming for awhile," said Des Moines defense attorney Angela Campbell. "And he's right. The guidelines are so high, you can have a runner or a very low-level pseudoephedrine (purchaser) who gets life very easily… If you're buying pseudoephedrine for a large-scale drug operation, you don't get hit just on what you buy, you’re responsible for the same thing as the entire conspiracy."

"He's not a lone voice in the wilderness," said Iowa defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown, who added that defense lawyers need to cite Bennett's opinion in meth cases. "It's an argument that defense lawyers in both the Northern and Southern districts of Iowa need to make," Brown said. "It's malpractice not to."

At least two other federal judges, Joseph Bataillon in Nebraska and John Gleeson in New York have issued similar criticisms of meth guidelines. Bennett's ruling drew on their reasoning.

Bennett, for his part, said reducing meth guideline sentences by a third was "a good starting point and a reasonable way to express my policy disagreement." But, he added, he "will reserve the ability to adjust the figure upwards and downwards as I weigh" other "important factors the guidelines do not contemplate."

Prosecutors could appeal Bennett's ruling in the Yates case. If they do, that could open the door to a decision by the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which in turn could open the door to a US Supreme Court review of sentencing procedure in the world of now-advisory guidelines, or even of the fairness of meth sentences.

Sioux City, IA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

How about we jail the real criminals?

The CIA's role in the international drug trade, dating back to 1949, is not a theory but a well-documented fact. The sources include former CIA and DEA agents.

"CIA are drug smugglers."—Federal Judge Bonner, while head of the DEA

In 1989, The Kerry Committee found that the United States Department of State had made payments to drug traffickers. Concluding that members of the U.S. State Department themselves were involved in drug trafficking. Some of the payments were made even after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies, or even while the traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies.


* Shortly after World War II, the OSS (the predecessor of the CIA) formed a strategic alliance with the Sicilian and Corsican mafia. 

* During the 1950s, In order to provide covert funds to forces loyal to General Chiang Kai-Shek (they were fighting the Chinese communists under Mao Zedong), the CIA helped the Kuomintang (KMT) smuggle opium to Thailand from China and Burma. They even provided planes owned by one of their front businesses—Air America. 

* During the long years of the cold war, the CIA mounted major covert guerilla operations along the Soviet-Chinese border. In 1950, for their operation against communist China in northeastern Burma, and from 1965 to 1975 [during the Vietnam war] for their operation in northern Laos, the CIA recruited, as allies, people we now refer to as drug lords. 

* Throughout the 1980s, in Afghanistan, the CIA's supported the Mujahedin rebels (in their efforts against the pro-Soviet government) by facilitating their opium smuggling operations. A small local trade in opium was turned into a major source of supply for the world's markets, including the United States. Thus Afghanistan become the largest supplier of illicit opium on the planet—a status only briefly interrupted when it was under Taliban control.  

* Again during the 1980s, the Reagan administration, using cocaine smuggling operations, funded a guerrilla force known as the Nicaraguan Contras—even after such funding was outlawed by Congress. An August 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News by Pulitzer Prize­-winner Gary Webb clearly linked the origins of crack cocaine in California to the CIA and the Contras.

Follow this link to an electronic briefing book compiled from declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive. It includes the notebooks kept by NSC aide and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, electronic mail messages written by high-ranking Reagan administration officials, memos detailing the contra war effort and FBI and DEA reports. The documents demonstrate official knowledge of drug operations, and also collaboration with, and protection of, known drug traffickers. Court and hearing transcripts are also included.

* In November 1996, a Miami grand jury indicted former Venezuelan anti-narcotics chief, and longtime-CIA asset, General Ramon Guillen Davila. He had been smuggling many tons of cocaine into the United States from a CIA owned Venezuelan warehouse. During his trial, Guillen claimed that all of his drug smuggling operations were approved by the CIA.

* The Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS), a Mexican intelligence agency (spawned in 1947) was practically a creation of the CIA. DFS badges were handed out to top-level Mexican drug traffickers—thus giving them a virtual 'License to Traffic'. The Guadalajara Cartel (Mexico's most powerful drug-trafficking network in the early 1980s) prospered largely because it enjoyed the protection of the DFS, under its chief Miguel Nazar Haro, also a CIA asset. 

For far more detailed information kindly google any of the following: 

* The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic by former DEA agent Michael Levine

* Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Gary Webb

* Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair

* The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade by Alfred W. McCoy

* The Underground Empire: Where Crime and Governments Embrace by James Mills

* Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA by Terry Reed, (a former Air Force Intelligence operative) and John Cummings (a former prize-winning investigative reporter at N.Y Newsday) 

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