Sentencing

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DPA Press Release: Al Gore III Faces 3 Years in Prison for Drug Possession; Californians Favor Alternatives to Incarceration

For Immediate Release: July 23, 2007 Contact: Margaret Dooley at (213) 291-4190 or Dave Fratello at (310) 394-2952 Al Gore III Faces Up to Three Years in Prison for Drug Possession; Californians Favor Alternatives to Incarceration CA Law Offers Treatment to 36,000 Nonviolent, Low-level Drug Offenders—Famous and Not—Every Year Gore Heads to Court as CA Senate Debates Budget Cuts to Prop. 36 LOS ANGELES, July 23 – Al Gore III, the 24-year-old son of the former vice president, is facing more than three years in prison for simple drug possession following an arrest in Southern California earlier this month. Advocates call for Gore to receive what most nonviolent, low-level drug offenders in California do—community-based treatment instead of incarceration under Prop. 36, passed by 61% of voters in 2000. The DA of Orange County will determine Gore’s eligibility for the program in the next couple of weeks. Margaret Dooley, Prop. 36 Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “It is a tragedy when anyone enters the criminal justice system—rather than the healthcare system—because of drug use. Thanks to Prop. 36, people in California can address those problems, without adding the trauma and stigma of incarceration. We hope the court will find that Gore is one of the tens of thousands who could benefit from Prop. 36 this year.” Over 36,000 people—famous and not—benefit from Prop. 36 each year. Daniel Baldwin, brother of Alec Baldwin, last week told Larry King that Prop. 36 intervened in his long-term cocaine addiction and allowed him to access the treatment he needed. His story is similar to that of Rudy Mendez, a not-so-famous resident of San Diego, who entered Prop. 36 to treat his long-term addiction to heroin, and has been sober for five years. Both men are now spokesmen for recovery and work with others to spread the news that “Recovery Happens!” and that one way to get there is Prop. 36. Gore’s arrest and Baldwin’s interview come just as the California Senate considers cutting funding to Prop. 36, in exchange for hefty tax breaks for large corporations. Advocates say the plan to cut funding to the life-saving and cost-effective program is a slap in the face of California voters. In 2000, 61 % of California voters approved Prop. 36, permanently changing state law so that all eligible nonviolent drug possession offenders must be given the option of state-licensed treatment. In just six years, over 70,000 Californians have graduated Prop. 36 and taxpayers have saved $1.8 billion. For more information, visit www.Prop36.org. To see Larry King interview Daniel Baldwin about his addiction and Prop. 36, visit http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2007/07/19/lkl.daily.danie... # # #
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Hurwitz Receives Lesser Sentence Second Time Around, Could Be Free in 17 Months

Via John Tierney at the New York Times, posted late last night... Judge Leonie Brinkema sentenced pain physician Dr. William Hurwitz to 57 months, more than pain treatment advocates were hoping for but considerably less than the 25 years handed down in the first trial by Judge Wexler. With time served, he could be out in 17 months. One paragraph in particular from Tierney's blog post encapsulates much of the backwardness inherent in the federal sentencing system, backwardness that affects many much more run-of-the-mill cases as well:
While there was no evidence that Dr. Hurwitz was profiting from the resale of his prescriptions -- and the jurors I interviewed said they didn’t think he intended the drugs to be resold -- he will still spend more time in prison than almost all the patients who admitting lying to him and reselling the drugs. Thanks to the deals they made to cooperate with prosecutors, seven of the nine patients got sentences ranging from 10 to 39 months. Only two got longer sentences than 57 months -- and one of them, who got 72 months, was also guilty of armed robbery and arson.
The other thing that is really troubling about this case is that jurors admitted to Tierney (previously) that they were not clear on what the law says about whether a doctor who screws up and prescribes to the wrong people, but isn't intentionally diverting drugs to the black market, should be held criminally responsible. But that is precisely the point of law on which the verdicts turned. If jurors don't understand the law they are judging, what is the justification for keeping the conviction and imprisoning someone for it? Despite the praise that has been given to Brinkema by Tierney and others for her handling of this case -- which admittedly was far better than other judges have done -- at the end of the day I have to say that I think she failed to do proper justice. I repeat, if the jurors admit that they did not understand the key point of law before them, I see no reasonable way for the verdicts to be considered legitimate, because the process itself is simply unsound. I could see an argument (theoretically) for having a third trial, but Dr. Hurwitz should be at home tonight with his family, and it's a crime that he's not -- not only for his sake, but for all the pain patients who effectively are being tortured by denial of pain medication because doctors don't want to take the risk of getting sent to prison. Lastly on this theme, think about the fact that the first set of convictions were invalidated, and this second set for the aforementioned reasons clearly should have been. That's an extraordinarily poor track record. A criminal justice system that imprisons people even when jurors admit they didn't know what they were doing is a system that is fundamentally corroded and has lost its way. Don't be proud of yourselves, feds! Despite all of the foregoing, I also have to say that I am relieved. 17 months is a long time to spend in prison, even if one hasn't already spent some years there already, but it could be much, much worse. Judge Brinkema could have given him the same 25 years, or life -- or 10 years, or 12 or 15. The trial also had a bright spot in that Brinkema saw through the misrepresentation about dosages that prosecutors had attempted:
Brinkema said she had read news accounts of the first trial and had seen some of the massive prescriptions Hurwitz had given out, including one patient who was given 1,600 pills a day. "The amount of drugs Dr. Hurwitz prescribed struck me as absolutely crazy," the judge said. But after hearing testimony from both sides, "I totally turned around on that issue," Brinkema said. "The mere prescription of huge quantities of opioids doesn’t mean anything."
In fact, there are known pain treatment cases in which the dosages were literally four times greater than the largest dosage prescribed by Hurwitz in the cases at stake (as I pointed out in a letter to Judge Wexler before the first sentencing, though obviously to no avail). Now lawyers in other pain cases (current and future) can read Judge Brinkema's comments to judges and jurors to explain why the apparently large doses may have been appropriate. The problem hasn't been a lack of experts willing to say that in trials; the problem has been that for some reason it just seems to wash over people in the face of the large number of pills. I think that having a quote like that from a federal judge will help to break through. I'm not a physician, and I'm not in a position to judge whether or not Dr. Hurwitz practiced good medicine in every case. But I'm completely confident that he did not engage any drug-dealing conspiracy. Perhaps the fact that I've met him several times in the past biases my view. But I've also met many of his former patients -- some of them I know well -- and it's a provable fact that he helped many people whom others doctors wouldn't help and who desperately needed the help, and that he gave them the benefit of thoughtful attention. A lot of these people were left in the lurch when the authorities moved against him, causing at least one suicide and arguably a few of them. Hopefully this outcome, while highly imperfect, has enough good points in it to help move things in the right direction; time will tell. You can keep with all of our pain reporting in our topical archive -- RSS is available here -- email us if you'd like to run our pain feed (or any other feed we offer) on your web site.
Location: 
United States

Pardon Whom?

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Nation (NY)
URL: 
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070730/pollitt

FAMM urges broadening of commutation use

Judiciary Committee questions Libby commutation; FAMM urges broadening of commutation use On Wednesday, July 11 in Washington, D.C., the House Judiciary Committee will investigate President's Bush's show of mercy to White House insider Scooter Libby. The hearing will consider the use and misuse of Presidential clemency power for executive branch officials. Although Mr. Libby’s high-profile commutation merits discussion, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) has written to the committee urging it to also explore how commutations should be used to reduce excessive sentences of deserving, nonviolent federal prisoners. Click here http://www.famm.org/Repository/Files/Letter_to_Conyers%5B1%5D.pdf to read FAMM's letter. Many such prisoners have applied for and not received commutations, although they have served long portions of their sentences and their behavior in prison has been exemplary. It is especially troubling that many prisoners wait years to receive a decision and some petitions filed as far back as 2000 have not been acted upon. In 2001, President Clinton commuted the sentences of nearly two dozen nonviolent drug offenders, all of whom served significant portions of their lengthy mandatory sentences before their release. These individuals rejoined their communities and became productive citizens. Click here http://www.famm.org/oldsite/October/FAMMGRAMS/2001/Spring%202001%20commu... to read more about them. Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM, says, "President Bush should grant commutations to the deserving individuals who have sought them. By granting commutations, the President will show mercy, do justice, and prove that clemency is available to all deserving prisoners and not just to the well-connected.” Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is a national non-partisan nonprofit organization that promotes just sentencing policies. Many of FAMM's members are prisoners, children and families torn apart by unjustifiably harsh mandatory minimum penalties. Click here http://www.famm.org/ExploreSentencing/TheIssue/FacesofFAMM.aspx to read their stories.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Home State Blues, or What's an Itinerant Activist To Do?

Your itinerant Drug War Chronicle has been bouncing around North America for the last few years, spending significant amounts of time in Washington state, British Columbia, Mexico, Northern California, and my home state, South Dakota. The traveling is nice, but I’ve felt politically homeless, as if my presence anywhere were too fleeting for me to be able to do local or state-level politics, and that’s a frustration. So, as much as I would rather be elsewhere, I’m thinking I need to hunker down here in Dakotaland and try to get something done. It is not friendly territory. South Dakota is the only state where voters rejected an initiative to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Although it was a close vote, 52% to 48%, it was still a loss. Medical marijuana bills (introduced by an acquaintance of mine) early in the decade went nowhere. The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations right now, thanks largely to its approach to methamphetamine use. Marijuana possession is routinely punished by $500 fines, and there is a good chance of jail time, too. (In fact, you may be better off being convicted of drunk driving, if my local court records are any indication.) And, most hideously of all, South Dakota is the only state I know of that has an “internal possession” law. That means when the police arrest you with a joint, they make you submit to a urine test, then charge you with an additional offense if you test positive. South Dakota judges also routinely sign drug search warrants that include forced drug tests. I know one gentleman currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “internal possession” of methamphetamine metabolites, and no, it wasn’t a plea bargain. That was the only charge they had. South Dakota’s drug reform community (which can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand) seems beaten down, but I think I’m going to reach out and see if I can’t get anyone interested in a four-pronged drug reform legislative package: Hemp. Our neighbors in North Dakota have passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp and are currently suing the DEA to force it out of the way. South Dakota farmers would like to make profits, too. Medical marijuana. Yeah, we lost a close one last year, and it’s never been able to get any traction in the legislature. But I think we should make them deal with it again. Our neighbors in Montana seem to be surviving medical marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization. Does South Dakota really think pot possession is more serious than drunk driving? Does the legislature understand the lifelong impact of pot conviction on its constituents? Our neighbors in Nebraska decriminalized pot back in the 1970s, and the cornfields are still standing. Repeal of the internal possession laws. Criminalizing someone for the content of his blood or urine is just wrong. Winning any of these will be an uphill battle, and perhaps even linking hemp to broader drug reform issues would spell its doom here. But I think it’s every good activist’s responsibility to do what he can to slow down the drug war juggernaut, so I’m going to give it a shot. What are you doing in your state?
Location: 
United States

Heavy time for drug lightweights

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/07/10/EDG6QQ4VGJ1.DTL

Libby's Independence Day

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/07/03/EDG6QQ4TM41.DTL

Joe Biden Does Something Good On Drug Policy

I've taken swings at Joe Biden a couple times in The Speakeasy, so I'm very pleased to see this:
In a press release that does not seem to be available online, the American Civil Liberties Union praises Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), historically one of the most gung-ho drug warriors in the Democratic Party, for introducing a bill that would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder. Previous proposals would have merely reduced the disparity, in some cases by making cocaine powder sentences more severe. By contrast, Biden's bill would raises the amount of crack that triggers a five-year mandatory minimum sentence to 500 grams, the same as the amount for cocaine powder. [reason]
Here's Biden's statement:
The current sentencing disparity between the two forms of cocaine is based on false notions and old logic. The bottom line is that there is no scientific justification for any disparity. Crack and powder are simply two forms of the same drug, and each form produces identical effects. I will soon be introducing legislation that eliminates the sentencing disparity completely, fixing this injustice once and for all.
Coming from a man whose drug war credentials include authoring the RAVE Act and creating ONDCP, this is an exciting surprise. While many consider fixing the crack/powder sentencing disparity a no-brainer, reducing federal drug sentences is certainly a bold move for Biden.

He's running for president right now, so Biden's willingness to challenge a drug war injustice suggests a shifting perception of the political implications of U.S. drug policy. As obviously flawed as the sentencing disparity is, it's not really that much more palatable than any number of other issues we're working on. If Biden can recognize this problem, there's much more he could potentially come to understand.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

Location: 
United States

President Bush's Commutation Total Just Increased by 50%!

Bush pardons turkeys and political allies but lets
half a million nonviolent drug offenders rot. The news just broke that President Bush has commuted Scooter Libby's sentence, leaving him with a conviction and a $250,000 fine. Most of the fine is going to be paid by his allies. This might not bother me as much -- I'm generally not a big fan of prison -- were it not that Bush has been such a "pardon Scrooge" during all of his now many years in office. In fact, as of last November the total number of commutations he had done numbered a mere two, according to SF Chronicle columnist Deb Saunders. What a coincidence that of all of the two million people languishing behind bars in this country, the vice president's former aide was one of only .00015% of them -- three people -- who deserved to be spared prison time! I've been watching drug policy, and criminal justice generally, for the last 14 years, and the sheer hypocrisy in this instance even blows me away. Either George Bush proceeds now to release nonviolent offenders in droves -- thousands and thousands of them -- or calling him a hypocrite will be the understatement of the millennium. Clarence Aaron and the Garrison twins would be three good people to start with. (Update: The president cannot commute state sentences, so change the .00015% I referred to earlier to .0015% instead. On the other side of the equation, though, a much higher percentage of federal incarcerations are of nonviolent drug offenses than of state incarcerations.)
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

10 Ugandans face death in China over narcotics

Location: 
China
Publication/Source: 
The Monitor (Uganda)
URL: 
http://www.monitor.co.ug/news/news07021.php

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