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Press Release: Tuesday (8/28/07) 11 am Teleconference: Rockefeller Reform Advocates Weigh in as NY State Commission on Sentencing Reform Votes on First Round of Recommendations

For Immediate Release: August 27, 2007 Contact: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 or Jennifer Carnig (212) 607-3363 New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform Debates Rockefeller Drug Law Overhaul This Week Dozens of Advocacy, Community Groups Unite to Reject Half-Steps, Demand Real Reform Tuesday 11 am: Leading Advocates and Family Members Join Tele-Press Conference to Release Coalition Statement on Commission What: Tele-Press Conference When: Tuesday, August 28, 2007. 11 a.m. Call in information: 800-311-9404; Passcode: 740815 Who: Cheri O’Donoghue, Prison Family Community Forum member and mother of a young man locked up for 7 – 21 years on a first-time, B-felony offense. Anita Marton, Legal Director, Legal Action Center Tony Papa, Communications Specialist, Drug Policy Alliance; author; and formerly incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws Donna Lieberman, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union Howard Josepher, Executive Director, Exponents Treatment Program New York— This week, the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform will vote on its first round of recommendations, before releasing a preliminary report of findings to the public in October. The Commission, enacted by Governor Elliot Spitzer through Executive Order, is charged with reviewing New York’s sentencing structure, sentencing practices, community supervision, and the use of alternatives to incarceration. The Rockefeller Drug Laws, including the Second Felony Offender Act, are high on the Commission’s priority list. The Real Reform Coalition - made up of advocates, academics, activists, families and individuals impacted by the Rockefeller Drug Laws – has been monitoring the Commission closely. Tomorrow, the Coalition will release an open letter to the Commission highlighting what constitutes meaningful reform. Signatories include the leading criminal justice, alternatives to incarceration, and drug treatment advocates in New York, along with families and community members directly impacted by the unjust laws. The leading opponents to reform are some prosecutors who are terrified of losing their power through additional changes in the law. They have been using skewed politically motivated reports to derail reform efforts. The Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted in 1973 under Governor Nelson Rockefeller, mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Supposedly intended to target major dealers (kingpins), most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many of them have no prior criminal records. Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the Rockefeller Drug Laws continue to deny people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms, and does not increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. Currently, more than 14,000 people are locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 38 percent of the prison population and costing New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. “My son did not benefit from the so-called reforms of 2004,” said Cheri O’Donoghue, who’s son, Ashley, is incarcerated for 7 – 21 years on a first-time, nonviolent offense. “When do families like ours finally get justice? The Commission’s mandate is clear—the status quo has failed, and we need comprehensive reform.” “There is tremendous support in New York for real reform,” said Gabriel Sayegh, project director at Drug Policy Alliance. “The so-called reforms of 2004 were a half-step forward, but New Yorkers understand it was not enough. As the Rockefeller Drug Laws continue, so do racial disparities, sentencing disparities, and lack of drug treatment alternatives.” Real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws requires four key elements: restoration of judicial discretion in all drug cases; the expansion of alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) programs, including community based treatment; reductions in the length of sentences for all drug offenses; and retroactive sentencing relief for all prisoners currently incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. “Under its drug-sentencing laws New York State has perpetrated one of the great civil rights injustices of our time,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The state’s Rockefeller Drug Laws have come to mean a law that is unfair, unjust and cruel; that is destructive, not rehabilitative; that is enforced with a blatant racial and ethnic bias. We hear much these days about an era of reform in Albany – reform of the state’s drug laws is a good place to start.”
New York, NY
United States

Drug War Prisoners: Pain Patient Richard Paey to Get Shot at Early Clemency

A Florida man serving a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer for attempting to obtain pain medications for his back injuries will be granted an expedited chance to appeal for clemency. Richard Paey, 48, has already served four years in Florida prisons for using undated prescription forms to obtain pain medications.

Inmates must typically serve at least a third of their sentences before being considered for clemency. But in the Paey case, which has received national attention, the state Clemency Board last week voted to grant a waiver. His case is scheduled to be voted on by the board next month.

Paey, a former lawyer and father of three, was observed going from pharmacy to pharmacy in his wheelchair seeking medications to relieve the pain from a 1985 auto accident that injured his back. Prosecutors argued that anyone forging prescriptions to obtain so many pain pills had to be selling them, but Paey said he had to use large amounts of opioid pain relievers to be able to function. Paey's pain is so severe that the Florida Department of Corrections has him on a morphine pump.

Paey appealed his conviction, but the Florida Supreme Court in March refused to hear his case. Now, clemency appears to be his best shot at regaining his freedom.

(The November Coalition has posted an important action alert about the case here.)

Drug War Prisoners: Rockefeller Law Victim Turned Activist Veronica Flournoy Dead at 39

Former New York Rockefeller drug law victim turned reformer Veronica Flournoy died last week of lung cancer in a Florida hospice. Flournoy, 39, a heavy drug user in her younger years, was snagged in an undercover drug operation and sentenced to eight years to life under New York's draconian Rockefeller laws.
Veronica Flournoy, with NY Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, daughters Candace and Keeshana and mother Eileen (courtesy
Flournoy served her minimum sentence, then collected her two young children and tried to begin life anew with her family. But the lung cancer, which appeared while she was in prison and which prison doctors told her not to worry about, left her with little time.

Prison opened Flournoy's eyes to the injustice of the drug war, and she never forgot her fellow prisoners. Flournoy participated in rallies designed to pressure polticians to undo the Rockefeller laws and even consented to using her terminal illness in a move to heighten the pressure. She appeared in a February public service announcement sponsored by the William Moses Kunstler Fund aimed at Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) and other state politicians who have been slow to act on vows to reform the state's harsh drug laws.

Drug War Prisoners: 86-Year-Old Alva Mae Groves Dies Behind Bars

Alva Mae "Granny" Groves, the 86-year-old North Carolina grandmother sentenced to 24 years behind bars after refusing to testify against her children, died last week at a federal prison hospital in Texas. Federal prison officials denied her request to die at home, saying her charges were too serious to allow compassionate release.
Alva Mae Groves (courtesy
Groves had already served 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to sell cocaine and aiding and abetting the trading of crack cocaine for food stamps. She was 74 when she went to prison. She always maintained that she had been punished for failing to cooperate with federal prosecutors to lock up her children for life.

"My real crime... was refusing to testify against my sons, children of my womb, that were conceived, birthed and raised with love," Groves wrote in a 2001 letter to November Coalition, an anti-prohibitionist group that concentrates on freeing federal drug war prisoners.

Law enforcement officials continue to maintain that Groves played a key role in a cocaine conspiracy conducted by family members, but family members have always said she did nothing more than look the other way. Five members of her family were imprisoned in the investigation. Her son, Ricky Groves, is doing a life sentence, while Groves, her older daughter, and her granddaughter were all sent to federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida.

Groves became one of the poster children for sentencing reform as reaction grew to the drug war excesses of the 1980s and 1990s. But any reforms will come too late for the grandmother who loved tending her garden.

"It's a relief she's dead, but it's a hurt, a real hurt we weren't with her," daughter Everline told the Charlotte Observer. "What could she have hurt?"

Groves dreamed of getting out of prison, planting new gardens, and seeing grandchildren born while she was behind bars, but never had the chance. Her kidneys began failing early this year, and she was transferred to a federal prison hospital in Fort Worth.

Groves did not want to die in prison, she told the November Coalition in a recent letter. "I realize everyone has a day to die; death is a fate that will not be cheated. But I don't want to die in prison. I want to die at home surrounded by the love of what's left of my family."

Last winter, the Groves family asked for compassionate release so she could die at home. The family wrote to every official they could think of and enlisted the help of groups like the November Coalition, to no avail. As Groves' daughters leaned over her bed on July 19, prison officials handed them a letter denying the request.

Middle East: More Drug Executions in Saudi Arabia

Three drug offenders were among five people executed in Saudi Arabia last Friday, one of the busiest days for the executioner there in some time. According to the Saudi interior ministry, the total number of executions so far this year now stands at 117, four more than the number executed in all of 2000, the previous record high year.
In Riyadh, Pakistani national Omar Sardar was executed for "smuggling heroin concealed in his stomach." His compatriot, Jahangir Zarin Bin Adam Khan Mhanid was executed in Jeddah for the same offense. Nigerian Nureddin Mohammed was also executed in Jeddah, for cocaine trafficking.

The other two people executed last Friday were Pakistani nationals convicted of robbing taxis.

In an International Harm Reduction Association report on drug executions issued last month, the author cited Amnesty International as finding that 26 of 50 Saudi executions in 2004 were for drug offenses and "at least" 33 more occurred in 2005. There are no figures yet available for last year.

According to the IHRA report, the number of countries that have death penalty provisions for drug offenses has climbed from 22 in 1985 to 34 this year. While nearly three dozen countries, including the US, have the death penalty for some drug offenses, actual executions have only been carried out in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Coalition Launches Public Education Crack Cocaine Sentencing Initiative

The Sentencing Project and coalition partners, the American Civil Liberties Union, Open Society Institute and Drug Policy Alliance, have launched It's Not Fair. It's Not Working, a national campaign to educate the public about the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The goal is to encourage the American public to make their voices heard in order to reform the mandatory penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses to make them more equitable and fair. An important element of the initiative will be to engage the public through events such as town hall meetings, national conferences, hearings and other opportunities. All activities will be designed to educate and raise awareness. The It's Not Fair. It's Not Working campaign will also feature three advertisements: It's Not Fair ( features Karen Garrison, mother of twin sons who received long sentences for non-violent crack cocaine offenses just months after they graduated from college. Something's Wrong with the Math ( points out that an individual only needs to possess 5 grams of crack cocaine to receive the same 5 year mandatory sentence as someone who sells 500 grams of powder cocaine. There's a Crack in the System ( supports the American ideal of a fair and appropriate sentencing system while at the same time informing the public that possessing a small amount of crack cocaine can carry an excessive penalty. Today a new consciousness about the unfairness and ineffectiveness of harsh crack cocaine mandatory sentences has emerged among advocates, policymakers, judges and the United States Sentencing Commission. At a time of bipartisan interest in this issue, Congress may be on the verge of mending the crack injustice. Since May, three bills have been introduced in the Senate that would reduce sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses: · Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) for the first time introduced a bill to equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. · Senator Orrin Hatch's (R-UT) new proposal would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder by raising the trigger weight for a five-year mandatory crack sentence from five grams to 25 grams. · Senator Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) bill would reduce the sentencing disparity also but expand mandatory sentencing for powder cocaine offenses. The Sentencing Project is actively working to advance crack cocaine sentencing reform in Congress this year. The support of national, state and local organizations is critical to our efforts. We urge organizations to endorse a sign-on letter to U.S. House and Senate Judiciary members calling for legislation eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses. You can submit your organization's endorsement of the crack cocaine sentencing reform letter at: Please include your organization's name, the name and title of signer, and the signer's e-mail address and phone number. For more information about It's Not Fair. It's Not Working, and The Sentencing Project's work to end the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, go to
United States

The justice system in America is not color blind, study shows

United States
Pensacola News Journal (FL)

Al Gore III pleads guilty to drug charges

United States
Los Angeles Times

Republican and Democratic Senators Query Gonzales on Crack Sentencing Views

User "puregenius" reports over in the Reader Blogs that Republican and Democratic senators -- Jeff Sessions and Pat Leahy -- queried Alberto Gonzales about his views on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, in last Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Dept. of Justice oversight. Short answer -- he likes it, they don't. Update: Just saw this link on TalkLeft to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Derrick Kimbrough, a federal prisoner serving time on a crack cocaine offense. LDF contends that "The Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Have Resulted in Vast Racial Disparities" and "The Racial Disparities Associated with the Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Have Caused Widespread Distrust of the Law.
Washington, DC
United States

New Resource on Judges' Views on Federal Sentencing -- Basically, They Hate It

Law professor David Zlotnick has released a new resource on judicial views on the federal sentencing system, available on his web site at the Roger Williams School of Law (link below). Briefly, judges don't like it. A few of the comments Zlotnick collected -- from the additional comments section -- provide some flavor of what it is to be found there:
Judge Morris S. Arnold Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Appointed by George H.W. Bush, 1992 "You may say that I said that many of our drug laws are scandalously draconian and the sentences are often savage. You may also quote me as saying the war on drugs has done considerable damage to the Fourth Amendment and that something is very wrong indeed when a person gets a longer sentence for marijuana than for espionage." Senior Judge Andrew W. Bogue District of South Dakota Appointed by Richard Nixon, 1970 Prior Legal Experience: State's Attorney, Turner County, South Dakota, 1952-1954 "I will say this on the sentencing guidelines: I detest them. The sentencing guidelines divest courts of their role in imposing just and appropriate sentences to fit the crime and the defendant, with due consideration to all the attendant circumstances. They deprive judges of their discretion which is the touchstone of justice. Were the sentencing guidelines merely suggestive, they might very well serve as an important and helpful model which could assist judges in a difficult task. However, in their present form, as I said, they are detestable." Judge Richard A. Gadbois, Jr. (deceased) Central District of California Appointed by Ronald Reagan, 1982 "The law stinks. I don’t know a judge that thinks otherwise."
Following are some introductory comments from Zlotnick, via Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog:
I am pleased to announce that the website for my federal sentencing project can be now be accessed at this link. The underlying research for this project was funded by a Soros Senior Justice Fellowship grant and was conducted over the past four and a half years. The heart of the work is contained in forty comprehensive case studies of federal cases in which Republican appointees complained that the sentences required by law were excessive. These profiles are the most comprehensively documented cases studies of federal sentencings available on the Internet. The site also includes a draft of my forthcoming article in the Colorado Law Review, "The Future of Federal Sentencing Policy: Learning Lessons from Republican Appointees in the Guidelines Era." This article contains a blueprint for sentencing reform legislation that might resonate with this cohort of federal judges in the post-Booker era. The launch of the website this summer is intended to allow my work to be used by sentencing reformers in the upcoming debate in Congress over the Sentencing Commission's proposed changes to the crack cocaine penalties. By showing that Republican appointees share many of the same concerns as academics and criminal defense attorneys, I hope to explode the myth of the liberal federal judiciary and pave the way for meaningful and bipartisan sentencing reform.
United States

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