Sentencing

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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

Discussion and Screening of Lockdown, USA

Join the Real Reform New York Coalition for an evening of discussion and a screening of the new Rockefeller drug law documentary "Lockdown, USA." Speakers include Wanda Best (wife of Darryl Best, whose story is featured in the film), Ricky and Cheri O'Donoghue (parents of Ashley O'Donoghue) and a special stand-up comedy performance by Randy Credico.

For more information contact douggreene@earthlink.net or the Cafe at (212) 677-5918.

This event is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted.

Date: 
Thu, 06/14/2007 - 6:30pm
Location: 
9 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

Feature: Battle Royal Looms as Canadian Government Set to Unveil Tough Anti-Drug Strategy

The Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is set to reveal what is expected to be a US-style approach to drug policy any day now. While action in parliament is unlikely until after the looming summer recess, battle lines are already being drawn in what promises to be a bitter fight.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/savecanada.jpg
pro-Insite demonstrators (photo courtesy timetodeliver.org)
Although the government has yet to reveal particulars, it is widely assumed that the new drug strategy will take a "tough on crime" approach to drugs, cracking down on grow-ops and drug sellers with harsher penalties, providing more money for law enforcement, and moving away from harm reduction approaches such as Vancouver's Insite safe injection site.

"There will be a heavier emphasis on enforcement, with some additional money for treatment," said Eugene Oscapella, head of the Canadian Drug Policy Foundation. "The other thing is they want mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, especially serious trafficking offenses," he told Drug War Chronicle.

An early hint of the Harper government's drug policy came in March, when Conservatives allocated an extra $70 million over two years for enforcement, treatment, and prevention, but no mention was made of harm reduction programs. In Canada, these also include needle exchanges and the distribution of sterile crack pipes.

Of the additional funding, treatment programs will get nearly half, law enforcement about a third, and the rest will go into "just say no" style youth prevention program. The new drug strategy is also expected to endorse the use of drug courts, where drug offenders can be ordered into treatment programs instead of jail or prison.

The Canadian federal government currently spends about $350 million a year on anti-drug efforts, the vast majority of which goes to law enforcement, with lesser amounts for treatment and prevention, and a pittance for harm reduction. Canadian drug policy is guided by a 20-year-old national drug strategy that has been widely criticized for lacking clear direction, targets, and measurable results.

What the Harper government is proposing is not the answer, says a growing chorus of critics. The Liberal Party was quick off the mark to attack the yet-to-be-seen Conservative drug strategy.

"Stephen Harper's government is expected to announce next week new measures that will retreat from harm reduction measures that help Canadians, such as the safe injection site in Vancouver," said Liberal Health critic Bonnie Brown in a press release last week. "They are trying to do this under the guise of cracking down on illicit drug trafficking and prevention -- even though all the research suggests that an ideologically-motivated war on drugs is ineffective, while programs such as the safe injection site are producing positive results."

A series of reports -- including the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS -- have concluded that the site has had a positive effect on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and has not increased crime or addiction rates, or threatened public health and safety.

"Rather than focusing its efforts where they are needed most -- such as funding the safe injection site and other programs vital to a larger harm reduction strategy in Canada -- this government is putting its right-wing agenda ahead of scientific evidence, and at a tremendous cost to those affected by addiction," said Brown.

Brown's charge resonates with a number of Canadian researchers. "The science is there. What we're seeing here is political interference," said Dr. Thomas Kerr with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, who has led several research studies on Insite. "I think it's a sad day for drug policy in Canada given that the Conservative government is now advocating a US-style approach to drug policy that's been shown to fail," he told reporters in Vancouver last week.

Kerr isn't the only one complaining. Several prominent researchers from across Canada have written an open letter to Health Canada criticizing it for calling for new research on Insite despite years of research showing positive incomes. The call for proposals from Health Canada ensures that the research will be superficial and inadequately funded, they said. They also took issue with a condition that researchers not be allowed to talk about their findings for six months after reports are submitted.

"Clearly what that does is to muffle people who might have something to say until after the curtain has dropped on this piece of political theatre," Benedikt Fischer, a director of the BC Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria, said in an interview last Friday. "Overall, we get the feeling that what this is about is there's an attempt to instrumentalize science in a fairly cheap way for politics."

"The Conservatives don't like InSite," said Oscapella. "This is not an issue of science, but of ideology and playing to the peanut gallery. They have tried to misstate its purpose, what it has achieved, and the position of other countries. This is a propaganda exercise by the government to further its electoral objectives," he said.

"But the Liberals are no angels, either," he pointed out. "They had three opportunities to reform the cannabis laws and they didn't do that. I give them some credit for the medical marijuana regulations, but at the same time, the process is now incredibly cumbersome. They backed away from decriminalization. In effect, they backed a tough drug war, but with softer rhetoric."

"The Liberals are known to oppose from the left and govern from the right," said Dana Larsen, a New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate for a West Vancouver riding and head of the party's anti-prohibitionist wing, eNDProhibition. "Now they're in opposition, and they will say that Harper's drug war is wrong. But they passed our current drug law in 1996 despite testimony from nearly everyone it was bad law, and marijuana arrests went up every year the Liberals were in power."

But while the national NDP supports harm reduction and legalizing marijuana as part of its platform, its national leadership has not embraced the issue, Larsen said. "The party is good on policy, and the party spokesperson on drug issues, Libby Davies, is great, but we haven't succeeded yet in getting the party to make ending the drug war a priority."

Davies was traveling on personal business outside the country and unavailable for comment this week.

Canada will have all summer to brood over the coming battles over drugs and crime, but with the Harper government a minority government, it will have to reach out to the Liberals, the NDP, or the Bloc Quebecois to pass anything. None of the opposition parties seems likely to support a "tough on drugs" package like that now envisioned by the Conservatives.

"They don't have the votes to pass this by themselves," said Oscapella. "The fear is what happens if they get reelected with a majority. Then they could walk all over everybody."

Press Release: Local Non-Profit Group Seeking to End Racist Drug Laws, Town Hall Meeting Set to Discuss Federal Law Reform, Activists & Politicians

For Immediate Release: May 31, 2007 Contact: Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, E: topssociety@yahoo.com, Tel: 334-685-7377 Local Non-Profit Group Seeking to End Racist Drug Laws Town Hall Meeting Set to Discuss Federal Law Reform, Activists & Politicians Birmingham - On June 2, 2007, The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS) will co-sponsor a town hall meeting that will be hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Birmingham, Alabama on the need to repair the current discriminatory federal drug sentencing policy. The event is open to the press, and TOPS speakers will be available before and afterwards for interviews. What: The Incarceration Nation – Town Hall Meeting on Crack vs. Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparities Speakers: Congressman Artur Davis, (D - Birmingham) Senator Jeff Sessions (R - AL) (invited) Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, Executive Director of TOPS Ed Vaughan, President, Alabama State Conference NAACP Dr. Foster Cook, Director, UAB - Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities Deborah Vagins, Policy Council for Civil Rights, ACLU Washington Legislative Office Barry Hargrove, Field Organizer, ACLU Washington Legislative Office When: 9:00am - 1:00pm Saturday, June 2 Where: Church of the Reconciler - 112 14th Street, North - Birmingham, AL Currently, distributing just five grams of crack carries a minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. Despite repeated recommendations by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Congress has not addressed this 100:1 sentencing disparity, which has devastated African-American communities and undermined faith in the criminal justice system. African-Americans comprise the vast majority of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses, although whites and Hispanics form the majority of crack users. “These laws highlight the indecent and subconscious racist tactics still supported in the criminal justice system,” said Kenneth Glasgow, Executive Director of The Ordinary People’s Society. “Five grams of crack cocaine sets forth a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, yet five-hundred grams of powder cocaine” A 2006 ACLU report found no medical or legal justification for the unfair sentencing disparity ratio. Although Congress' stated intent was to target high-level cocaine traffickers, the result has been just the opposite - a 2002 USSC report found that only 15 percent of federal cocaine traffickers can be classified as high-level, while over 70 percent of crack defendants have low-level involvement in drug activity, such as street level dealers, couriers, or lookouts. T.O.P.S. is a nonprofit, faith-based organization that offers hope, without regard to race sex, creed, color or social status, to individuals and their families who suffer the effects of drug addiction, incarceration, homelessness, unemployment, hunger and illness, through comprehensive faith-based programs that provide a continuum of unconditional acceptance and care. ### T.O.P.S. (The Ordinary People Society) are a nonprofit organization that will provide an alternative to criminal behavior. This is a faith-based organization that will bridge the gap between the have and have-nots. We will provide rehabilitation to the repeat offenders while creating a program that target the youths before they reach the Criminal Justice System. Since the War on Drugs has been established the prison populations have continued to increase costing taxpayers more than $20,000 per inmate. This method is draining many State Governments. Also, families are suffering due to the lost of a mother, father, sister or brother. With our counseling and street ministry we are providing a second chance for many of our citizens both drug users and drug pushers. We would like to extend our program to include an after school program for youths and also for some adults so they can take pride and improve their self-esteem while improving their own family's life. T.O.P.S. provides counseling services to Ramsey Youth Services, Houston County Jail, and Dothan City Jail. T.O.P.S. would like to include a transitional facility that will provide a structural environment that will include education, treatment, and rehabilitation.
Location: 
Birmingham, AL
United States

Southeast Asia: More Death Sentences for Drug Offenses

Southeast Asia continues its macabre response to drug trafficking and manufacturing, with nine people being sentenced to death in Indonesia this week for manufacturing ecstasy and three more sentenced to death in Vietnam for manufacturing and trafficking in methamphetamines. Another four people were sentenced to death for heroin trafficking in Vietnam the same day. The region, along with China, is responsible for most drug offense death sentences.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/chinese_anti_drug_poster.jpg
Chinese anti-drug poster
In Indonesia, the Indonesian Supreme Court Tuesday pronounced death sentences on a French man, a Dutch man, two Indonesians, and five Chinese men. The Europeans were the manufacturing experts, the Indonesians ran day-to-day manufacturing, and the Chinese funded the whole venture, which produced millions of ecstasy tablets.

"The Supreme Court considers the Frenchman and Dutchman experts," said Justice Djoko Sarwoko. "If we let them be, they would be able to produce in other place, or teach others their skills. This is a threat to the next generation." [Ed: The judge's statement is Orwellian -- even if one were to agree that the defendants should be prevented from manufacturing drugs in the future, that could be accomplished by methods other than execution.]

That same day, the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City pronounced death sentences on three men and a woman for buying methamphetamine powder in neighboring Cambodia, pressing it into pills of various colors and shapes, and selling them to customers in the city. One other man was sentenced to life in prison, while 17 other codefendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 18 years.

"They produced and sold 24,000 pills weighing up to 6 kilograms in the period between 2003 and March 2005, when the ring was busted," said presiding Judge Vu Phi Long said. "This is one of the largest non-heroin drug cases so far."

Meanwhile, in the People's Court of Son La province imposed the death sentence Tuesday on three men for trafficking in less than 35 pounds of heroin. A woman in the case was sentenced to life in prison.

Under Vietnamese sentencing guidelines, possession, distributing, manufacturing, or smuggling more than 600 grams (approximately 1.25 pounds) of heroin or 2500 grams (a little more than five pounds) of synthetic drugs is punishable by death. Vietnam has now sentenced 22 drug offenders to death this year.

Vietnam and the nine other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand) have vowed to create a drug-free region by 2015.

Alabama Townhall meeting on Discriminatory Federal Drug Sentencing

The ACLU Washington Legislative Office and the ACLU of Alabama will host a townhall meeting in Birmingham, Alabama on the need to repair the current discriminatory federal drug sentencing policy. The event is open to the press, and ACLU speakers will be available afterwards for interviews. Speakers include: -Senator Jeff Sessions (R - AL) (invited) -Ed Vaughan, President, Alabama State Conference NAACP -State Representative Artur Davis, (D - Birmingham) -Dr. Ralph Hendrix, University of Alabama at Birmingham -Deborah Vagins, Policy Council for Civil Rights, ACLU Washington Legislative Office -Barry Hargrove, Field Organizer, ACLU Washington Legislative Office Currently, distributing just five grams of crack carries a minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. Despite repeated recommendations by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Congress has not addressed this 100:1 sentencing disparity, which has devastated African-American communities and undermined faith in the criminal justice system. African-Americans comprise the vast majority of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses, although whites and Hispanics form the majority of crack users. A 2006 ACLU report found no medical or legal justification for the unfair sentencing disparity ratio. Although Congress stated intent was to target high-level cocaine traffickers, the result has been just the opposite - a 2002 USSC report found that only 15 percent of federal cocaine traffickers can be classified as high-level, while over 70 percent of crack defendants have low-level involvement in drug activity, such as street level dealers, couriers, or lookouts. The ACLU report, "Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of the Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law," is available at: http://www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/sentencing/27181pub20061026.html
Date: 
Sat, 06/02/2007 - 9:00am - 3:00pm
Location: 
112 14th Street, North
Birmingham, AL 35203
United States

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