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Good-Bye: One Woman Drug War Victim Dies, Another is About To

Two women victims of the drug war on our minds this week, one who went all the way to the Supreme Court and won, only to be murdered a few days ago, and one who suffered long years in prison under New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws and won her freedom, only to be vanquished by a cancer that grew untreated while she was behind bars.

Down in Deltona, Florida, Rockefeller drug law prisoner turned reform advocate Veronica Flournoy is in a hospice surrounded by family as she lies dying of cancer. The pains in her chest that prison doctors told her to ignore turned out to be lung cancer, which has now spread to her brain. She is 39.

When she was sent to prison doing eight-to-life, Flournoy already had a two-year-old daughter. Her second child was born in prison. When she got out, she collected her children and for an all too brief time was able to enjoy life with her family.

But she didn't forget the women she left behind in prison. She turned up at drug reform rallies. And she continues to fight the good fight. Even as she now lies dying, a public service announcement urging New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D) to live up to his promise to reform the Rockefeller laws is airing.

Meanwhile, in Columbia, South Carolina, Crystal Ferguson, the poor, black woman jailed for testing positive for cocaine when she gave birth to a daughter at a Charleston hospital in 1991, was killed along with one daughter in an arson fire last month. Another daughter, Virginia, the one born in 1991, was away at camp. Ferguson's lawsuit against the hospital, Ferguson v. City of Charleston, South Carolina, resulted in a finding that the drug testing of pregnant women without their consent amounted to an illegal search. The case also brought the complex issues of race, class, pregnancy, and drug use to national attention.

After the Supreme Court victory, Ferguson faded back into the shadow, quietly raising her two daughters in a mobile home in a modest neighborhood. Her surviving daughter, Virginia, told the State newspaper she didn't like to talk about her mother's case, but that her efforts to get out of a life of poverty had inspired her. "All you see is either homeless people or something. Nobody wants to try. She wasn't like that. She wanted to try," Virginia said. "But I guess it didn't work out."

Both will be missed.

Sentencing: Supreme Court to Decide Crack Sentencing Case

The US Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear the case of a Virginia man sentenced under the harsh federal crack cocaine laws. Coming after the high court has already agreed to hear two other cases related to federal sentencing, the decision will broaden its review of federal sentencing law by adding the notorious crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity to it.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/supremecourt2.jpg
US Supreme Court
Under federal law, it takes five grams of crack or 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence. Similarly, 10 grams of crack or 1,000 grams of powder cocaine merit a 10-year mandatory minimum. The 100:1 disparity in the amounts of the drug needed to trigger the mandatory minimum sentences has been the subject of numerous critics, including federal judges.

The case selected Monday was that of a Virginia man, Derrick Kimbrough, who pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing and distributing more than 50 grams of crack. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentencing range of 19 to 22 years, but Federal District Court Judge Raymond Jackson in Richmond pronounced such a sentence "ridiculous" and "clearly inappropriate," and sentenced Kimbrough to the lowest sentence he could, the mandatory minimum of 15 years.

But the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Jackson's reasoning and ordered resentencing. "A sentence that is outside the guidelines range is per se unreasonable when it is based on a disagreement with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses," the three-judge appeals court panel said.

Other federal appeals courts disagree. Both the Third Circuit in Philadelphia and the District Colombia Circuit Court of Appeals have held that, as the Philadelphia appeals court put it, "a sentencing court errs when it believes that it has no discretion to consider the crack/powder cocaine differential incorporated in the guidelines." Both courts noted that the Supreme Court itself had made the federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory in its 2005 ruling in Booker v. United States.

The other two federal sentencing cases the court has agreed to hear are also related to the confusion in the courts in the wake of Booker. One case, Rita v. United States, raises the question of whether a sentence within the guidelines range should be presumed reasonable. The second case, Gall v. United States, involved an Iowa college student given a sentence beneath the guidelines in an ecstasy case. The trial judge sentenced Gall to three years probation rather than three years in prison, but the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ordered resentencing, finding that such an "extraordinary" departure from the guidelines required "extraordinary" justification.

The Supreme Court will likely decide Rita in a few weeks, and will hear arguments in Gall in October. Kimbrough will carry over into the next term. But in the next few months, the Supreme Court will make decisions that will potentially affect the freedom of thousands of federal drug defendants each year.

State may revise guidelines for drug sentences

Location: 
Providence, RI
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Providence Journal (RI)
URL: 
http://www.projo.com/news/content/mandatory_minimums_06-14-07_9H60LMB.34c74a9.html

Bush Seeks to Re-Impose Mandatory Minimums

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
CBS News
URL: 
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/13/politics/main2924206.shtml

Real Reform New York Coalition: Screening and Discussion of "Lockdown, USA," a New Documentary about the Rockefeller Drug Laws

For Immediate Release: June 12, 2007 Contact: Douglas Greene, T: 516-242-4666, E: douggreene@earthlink.net Screening and Discussion of “Lockdown, USA,” a New Documentary Film about the Rockefeller Drug Laws on Thursday, June 14 Advocates and Family Members Join Together to Demand Gov. Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Bruno Keep Their Word and Enact REAL REFORM of New York’s Draconian and Inhumane Drug Laws Before Session Ends Next Thursday New York-- On Thursday, June 14, advocates for Real Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and parents of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners will be discussing Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s failure to act on Rockefeller Drug Law reform as the legislative session enters its final week. Following the legislative update and comments from parents of Rockefeller drug law prisoners, there will be a screening of a new documentary about the Rockefeller Drug Laws, called Lockdown, USA. The screening is being sponsored by the Real Reform New York Coalition, Cures not Wars and the Drug Policy Alliance. The evening will conclude with a stand-up comedy performance by Randy Credico, Director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, who is featured in the film. Assembly Bill 6663-A, which was passed by the Assembly on April 18, 2007, would expand drug treatment for people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, and continue sentencing reform by allowing certain people serving time for “B” felonies to apply for resentencing—a key piece missing in changes to the law made in 2004 and 2005. The bill would also increase judicial discretion and allow for some people convicted of first- and second-time drug offenses to receive treatment and probation instead of prison. Companion Senate Bill 4352-A is stuck in the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Bruno and Gov. Spitzer have other legislative priorities before session ends on June 21. “The last small reform to the Rockefeller Drug Laws was clearly not enough. My son Ashley is a prime example of this, because he is serving a 7 to 21 year sentence for a first time, nonviolent offense,” said Cheri O’Donoghue, who will be speaking. “Senate Majority Leader Bruno, Speaker Silver, and Governor Spitzer have all promised real reform. The Assembly has acted—where are the Senate and the Governor? These inhumane, racist laws have been around for over 34 years, and enough is enough.” New York’s Drug Law Reform Act of 2004 (DLRA) lowered some drug sentences but it fell far short of allowing most people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms, and did not increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. While advocates and family members are encouraged by the modest reforms, they are clear that the recent reforms have no impact on the majority of people behind bars. Most people behind bars on Rockefeller charges are charged with nonviolent lower-level or class-B felonies. Advocates and family members of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners will be screening Lockdown, USA, a new documentary which follows the unlikely coalition working to change the Rockefeller Drug Laws: outraged mothers and community members, formerly incarcerated people, hip-hop community leaders, and many more. The documentary, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in May 2006 and has screened at film festivals around the world, captures the series of events that forced the political establishment to reconcile with the burgeoning movement to repeal the draconian, racist Rockefeller Drug Laws. Hip-hop megastar and multi-platinum artist Jim Jones released “Lockdown, USA,” a single about the Rockefeller Drug Laws, on May 8, 2007, the 34th anniversary of the Laws. What: Discussion about the Rockefeller Drug Laws and legislative status of reform bills with Real Reform advocates and families of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners; Screening of Lockdown, USA follows; Stand-up comedy performance by Randy Credico When: Thursday, June 14, at 6:30 p.m. Where: Yippie Museum Café, 9 Bleecker Street. Who: Gabriel Sayegh (Director, State Organizing and Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance); Wanda Best (wife of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoner Darryl Best, whose story is featured in Lockdown, USA); Ricky and Cheri O'Donoghue (parents of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoner Ashley O'Donoghue); Randy Credico (Director, William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice).
Location: 
New York, NY
United States

Court to Weigh Disparities in Cocaine Laws

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/washington/12scotus.html

Crack Cocaine Sentencing Headed to Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the U.S. v. Kimbrough case, in which an eastern-Virginia US District Court judge, Raymond Jackson, sentenced a crack cocaine offender -- Derrick Kimbrough -- to a below-guidelines sentence, only to be overruled following an appeal by the government to the 4th Circuit. "Guidelines" here refers to the federal sentencing guidelines (similar to, but not to be confused with the mandatory minimums), in which certain very harsh sentences require only 1/100th the amount of crack cocaine to get triggered as is required of powder cocaine. The "government" here refers to federal prosecutors, who objected that Judge Jackson had based his view that the guidelines sentence for Kimbrough's offense was unreasonable (a requirement for downward departures in the post-Booker ruling federal sentencing world, at least for now) in part on his disagreement over the policy of the harsher sentences for crack offenders. The Court of Appeals in the 4th Circuit agreed, and Kimbrough's sentence was kicked back up to the much-criticized guidelines level. Also before the Court is the case of Victor Rita, another crack cocaine defendant. And the Court has promised to pick a case that deals with the same issue as the one that was at stake in the case of Mario Claiborne, who died earlier this year (info at same link). While there are far more whites who use crack cocaine than blacks, as the Associated Press reported today, "[m]ost crack cocaine offenders in federal courts are black." Why does the 4th Circuit Appeals Court see the intellectual path a judge took to get to a finding of unreasonableness as more important than the self-evidently unreasonable nature of the draconian sentences they are defending? Both Mr. Kimbrough and Judge Jackson are African American, by the way. They are also both veterans -- Kimbrough fought in the first Gulf War; Jackson has a decades-long military career that included a stint as a JAG and includes continuing service as a colonel in the Reserves. The 4th Circuit decision, which is only two paragraphs long, is not published online (or so I've read), but visit the post made about this case on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog and scroll down to the third comment to read it. Our topical archive on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is online here (though it only goes back to early fall -- you have to use the search engine for earlier stories). We also have a Federal Courts archive here Last but not least, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, click here to write to Congress in support of H.R. 460, Charlie Rangel's bill to reduce crack cocaine sentences to the same level as sentences for powder cocaine.
Location: 
United States

Charlie Rangel on Reentry, Crack Cocaine Sentencing and the Vote

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), a one-time drug warrior, made brief remarks on the floor of the US House of Representatives relating to criminal justice, including his support for the Second Chance Act (measures to help people coming out of prison to reenter society successfully) and for restoring the vote to people with past felony convictions, and his sponsorship of H.R. 460 to eliminate the harsher treatment that people convicted for crack cocaine offenses currently receive under the law relative to other cocaine offenses (along with other remarks that don't directly relate to drug policy). (Click here to write your US Representative in support of H.R. 460.) Nothing too huge here, but of interest, and good to see that the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee is focused on things like this.
Location: 
United States

Death Penalty: Two More Drug Offenders Sentenced in Vietnam, One Executed in Saudi Arabia

Nations in Southeast Asia and the Middle East continue to impose the death penalty on drug offenders, with two more people being sentenced to death and another one executed this week.

In Vietnam, two ethnic minority villagers were sentenced to death for smuggling heroin Monday. Fourteen others were sent to prison in a case involving 1.7 kilograms of heroin being smuggled in a three-month period last year.

"All of the 16 convicted were from the same village, and many of them were related to each other," said Pham Van Nam, the court's chief administrator. "They were all drug addicts."

In Saudi Arabia, authorities beheaded a Saudi citizen for smuggling hashish Thursday. Jari al-Dossari was arresting while receiving a large quantity of hashish and executed in Riyadh's al-Sulail province.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law, people convicted of murder, rape, armed robbery, and drug trafficking can be executed. And the Saudis are keeping busy -- 82 people have been executed so far this year, well ahead of the pace last year (38) and the year before (82).

DPA Media Advisory: Surprise Birthday Party for Gov. Spitzer; Advocates Ask Spitzer to Keep His Campaign Promise to Reform Draconian Drug Laws

MEDIA ADVISORY: June 7, 2007 Contact: Gabriel Sayegh, 646-335-2264 or Tony Newman, 646-335-5384 Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Advocates to Throw a Surprise Birthday Party on Friday at Noon for Gov. Eliot Spitzer Real Reform New York Coalition and Others to Deliver Birthday Cake and Card to Spitzer Asking Him to Keep His Campaign Promise to Reform Draconian Drug Laws New York, NY—The Real Reform New York Coalition will join with many others on Friday, June 8 at noon to throw a surprise birthday party for Gov. Eliot Spitzer outside of his New York City office. Asking him to heed his campaign promise to reform the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, the coalition will celebrate Spitzer’s promise of justice. The Real Reform New York Coalition, made up of advocates, people formerly incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws, their family members and supporters, will share cake and party favors with the crowd, and deliver a large birthday card—signed by New York voters—demanding real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. While campaigning, Spitzer promised to make Rockefeller Drug Law reform a priority during his term as governor. However, during the first six months in office, he has remained strangely silent about reforming Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Rockefeller drug laws underwent minor changes in 2004 and 2005. These changes proved to be ineffective in changing the racist and non-rehabilitative impact of these laws. The Rockefeller drug laws have filled New York’s state prisons with more than 14,000 people convicted of drug offenses, representing nearly 38 percent of the prison population and costing New Yorkers more than $550 million annually. New York’s Drug Law Reform Act of 2004 (DLRA) lowered some drug sentences but it fell far short of allowing most people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms. The reforms also did not increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. While advocates and family members are encouraged by the modest reforms, they maintain that the recent reforms have no impact on the majority of people behind bars. Most people behind bars on Rockefeller drug law violations are charged with nonviolent lower-level or class-B felonies. In April, the state Assembly passed A.6663, a bill that would significantly reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws by expanding treatment, reducing harsh sentences for low-level offenses, and increasing judicial discretion. Governor Spitzer has yet to comment on the bill, which is now sitting in the Senate. What: Surprise Birthday Party/Rally for Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Where: Outside Gov. Spitzer’s New York City Office, 633 3rd Ave. When: Friday, June 8, 2007, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Location: 
New York, NY
United States

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