Sentencing

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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

Drug-free zones target blacks unfairly, critics say

Location: 
FL
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Palm Beach Post (FL)
URL: 
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/politics/content/local_news/epaper/2007/07/01/s1a_SWC_1000_FOOT_MAIN_0701.html

Feature: UN Releases Annual Drug Report, Countries Mark International Day Against Drugs With Bonfires, Propaganda Exercises, Death Sentences

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued its 2007 World Drug Report Tuesday, the same day as it marked its annual International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. While the UNODC claimed it was making substantial progress in the fight against drugs by "stabilizing" global drug use levels, critics pointed out that that was a far cry from UNODC's mission of substantially eradicating all drug crops by next year and that "stability" meant only the continuation of the repressive status quo.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/chinadrugburning.jpg
drug burning in China marking the UN's International Anti-Drugs Day
Part of that status quo is UNODC's annual anti-drug day. While it appears to have been pretty well ignored in Europe and North America -- either no events took place or they were deemed unworthy of coverage by the media -- anti-drug day is an occasion for public meetings, ceremonial drug burnings, and sometimes, worse, in those parts of the world with the stiffest anti-drug postures, particularly the Middle East and Asia.

And so it was this year, with ceremonial drug burnings to mark anti-drug day taking place in Mozambique, Myanmar, Thailand, and Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, authorities in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania,
the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam marked anti-drug day with public assemblies, educational events, and special ceremonies. In Vietnam, authorities celebrated anti-drug day by ordering a crackdown until September 26.

But once again, it was actions by China that were the most dramatic and drew the most concern from drug reform, harm reduction, and human rights activists. In past years, China celebrated anti-drug day with executions of drug trafficking offenders -- as many as 460 in recent years, according to press reports compiled by the US-based Harm Reduction Coalition.

This year, there were no anti-drug day executions reported in China. But Chinese authorities did announce death sentences for seven drug traffickers on anti-drug day eve and announced one more on anti-drug day itself.

"We have observed a declining resort to the death penalty in both the US and China," said Richard Dieter, head of Death Penalty Information Center. "Although China uses it much more than the US, they have agreed to be more discerning and review more cases in their high courts. I think we will see a decline in the death penalty in China," he predicted.

"We don't want to see drug offenders executed," said Allan Clear, head of the Harm Reduction Coalition. "But we also don't want the UN to set up this day without drugs and then have member states run out and execute people as a show of good faith. We want the UN to step up and say that is not what they intended. UN Secretary-General Moon has made comments to the effect that it should be up to member states, and we think that is appalling," Clear said.

In fact, the Harm Reduction Coalition wrote a letter to Moon last month urging him to take action. The letter called on Moon to "condemn China's use of executions and death sentences to commemorate International Day Against Drugs as severe human rights violations and to make a public call to halt this practice. Progress against the problem of drugs and related issues, including the HIV epidemic, must be founded upon a solid respect and enforcement of human rights for all," the letter stated.

"It's good that there have been no reported executions," said Clear, "but I don't think we can actually claim a victory if they are still using the day as a reason to sentence people to death."

Clear said that a number of regional human rights and harm reduction groups joined the Harm Reduction Coalition in sending letters to the UN urging it to intervene against states using the death penalty to mark anti-drug day. But a number of other groups decided to wait.

While there is some dissension in the harm reduction and human rights ranks about how best to go after the use of the death penalty in drug cases, an international movement against it is forming. The International Harm Reduction Association and Human Rights Watch are spearheading a campaign centered on October 10, the international day against the death penalty.

"We've agreed to work with all the regional networks in an effort coordinated by Human Rights Watch and IHRA," said Clear. "That will happen later this year."

If the excesses of the international anti-drug day are drawing criticism, so is UNODC's annual report, with critics calling it everything from rose-tinted to meaningless. UNODC claimed that coca production was down in the Andes, a claim undercut by US figures released just weeks earlier that showed an increase. Similarly, UNODC claimed success in eradicating opium production in Laos, which pales in significance compared to the massive increase in production in Afghanistan, which accounts for nearly 95% of the global supply.

"The methods of estimating global drug use and drug production are very imprecise and notoriously unstandardized," said Dutch drug policy researcher Peter Cohen. "The text will say what is needed at the moment. It is tailored to cater to global moods and UN funding needs. All of these UN drug reports are political expressions, and the UNODC's trick is to somehow make people believe their Politburo reports have some significance," he argued. "It's best to ignore them."

The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) was similarly scathing, noting that while UNODC claimed overall stability, "repression is rising." Stability means the status quo, ENCOD complained: "Stability in this case means that current drug policies place the heaviest burden among those who are already among the most marginalized in the first place… Stability means an escalation of law enforcement and repression… Stability means a war against minorities," the group continued, mentioning both Laos, where the internal resettlement of indigenous ethnic communities that formerly grew opium has pushed mortality rates through the roof, and the United States, where racial minorities are much more likely to be incarcerated on drug charges.

The UNODC looks at global drug supplies and consumption and claims victory by running hard just to stay in the same place. The harm reduction, human rights, and drug reform community looks at the same data and sees the latest installment of a disastrous global drug prohibition regime.

(Click here for commentary by David Borden on this issue.)

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