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Death Penalty: Four More Drug Offenders Sentenced to Death in Vietnam, 17 Hung in Iran

Four more people have been sentenced to death for drug trafficking offenses in Vietnam in the past week. Meanwhile, Iran reported that it had executed 17 drug traffickers earlier this month.

Under Vietnamese law, anyone convicted of possessing or trafficking more than 600 grams (about 1 ¼ pounds) of heroin or 44 pounds of opium is eligible for the death penalty. Under Iranian law drug trafficking is one of numerous offenses that can garner the death penalty.

In Hanoi People's Court on September 14, three members of the same extended family were sentenced to death for trafficking four pounds of heroin. Two other members of the organization received life sentences, while four others received sentences ranging from 10 months to 20 years. All were convicted of bringing heroin from northern mountainous Son La province to Hanoi between June and August of 2006.

On Tuesday, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court announced it had sentenced a 40-year-old Australian citizen to death for heroin trafficking. Nguyen Hong Viet was arrested at the Ho Chi Minh City airport with nearly 950 grams of heroin in his clothing as he waited to board a flight to Sydney. Viet told police he was paid $10,000 to carry the drugs to Australia.

"Prosecutors find that with the amount of heroin trafficked, the defendant deserved the highest and most severe punishment so that society can prevent this crime and have educational impact on others," the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court said in a statement.

Viet is one of at least five Australians of Vietnamese descent who have been sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Vietnam. None have yet been executed.

Meanwhile, Iranian state television tersely announced another round of executions. "After legal procedures, 17 individuals were hanged on the charges of drug smuggling in Khorasan Razavi province this morning," the official outlet reported, on September 5.

Along with Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, Vietnam and its Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia and Singapore are world leaders in executing drug offenders.

Chris Dodd Advocates Marijuana Decriminalization

Nothing to see here. Just another presidential candidate appealing to voters by observing the absurdity of the way marijuana users are treated in America.

Dodd also pledges to protect medical marijuana and reform the crack/powder sentencing disparity. Notice how he lumps these issues together. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the democratic drug policy platform.

Location: 
United States

Death Penalty: Two More Drug Offenders Executed in Iran, Six Sentenced to Die in Vietnam

The death penalty continues to be inflicted on drug offenders, primarily in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. According to Hands Off Cain, a Rome-based anti-death penalty organization affiliated with the nonviolent Radical movement, Iran executed two drug offenders last week, while Vietnam sentenced six others to death.

In Iran, two men identified only as Ali D. and Karim T. were hanged September 6 in the port city of Bandar Abbas for trafficking in heroin and opium. Under Iranian law, the death penalty can be inflicted for possession of more than 30 grams of heroin or five kilograms of opium. Iranian law also allows the death penalty for murder, armed robbery, apostasy, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, and plotting to overthrow the government. Iranian authorities say most executions are carried out against drug offenders, but human rights groups believe many people executed for drug crimes in Iran may in fact be political opponents of the regime.

Meanwhile, a court in northern Vietnam has sentenced six men to death and two others to life in prison for trafficking in heroin. The sentences were handed down in the People's Court of Thanh Hoa province in a case involving 4.66 kilograms of heroin. Under Vietnamese drug laws, among the toughest in the world, possession or smuggling 100 grams of heroin or five kilograms of opium is punishable by death. The Vietnamese People's Supreme Court issued slightly more lenient sentencing guidelines in 2001 -- capital punishment only for smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin -- but those guidelines are not strictly implemented.

DPA: A Tipping Point in Congress - Take Action

If you told me a year ago we were near a tipping point in Congress on rolling back one of the worst excesses of the war on drugs, I probably would have thought you were crazy. But the movement to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has grown so strong that Senators are tripping over themselves to support reform. Three different bi-partisan reform bills have already been introduced in the Senate - all by unlikely allies - and the Judiciary Committee is set to have hearings on the issue in September. Please take a minute today to fax your Senators and help build momentum against these draconian mandatory minimums.

 

Take action now.

 

Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are different forms of the same drug, and have similar effects on the brain and nervous system. Federal law, however, sets a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between the two forms.

 

This disparity, enacted in the 1980s at the height of drug war hysteria, was based largely on the myth that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine and that it was instantly addictive and caused violent behavior. Since then, copious amounts of scientific evidence and an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission have shown that these assertions were not supported by sound data and were exaggerated or outright false.

 

Regardless of why the disparity was enacted, its impact is clear: tremendous racial disparities in the criminal justice system, wasted tax dollars, and a less safe America.

 

The solution is clear: Completely eliminate the disparity. Raise the amounts of crack cocaine it takes to trigger long sentences to equal those of powder cocaine, and reprioritize federal drug war agencies towards violent drug cartels.

DPA is launching a major grassroots campaign to boost support for reform, including holding town hall forums in key Congressional districts. We've already held one forum in
Alabama in conjunction with the ACLU; and we're planning forums in California, New York, and Texas. Additionally, we've teamed up with The Sentencing Project, the ACLU, and the Open Society Policy Center to launch a public relations campaign (you can view the campaign's really cool print ads here).

 

Three U.S. Senators have already introduced reform bills - Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Senator Joe Biden (D-DE). The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has pledged to have hearings on the issue in September. There is growing bi-partisan support for reform.

 

The Sessions bill (S. 1383) would reduce the crack/powder sentencing disparity to 20 to 1 by lowering penalties for crack cocaine and raising penalties for power cocaine. Since Hispanics are disproportionately prosecuted for powder cocaine offenses, the practical effect of the Sessions bill would be to reduce racial disparities for blacks, while increasing them for Hispanics. The Hatch bill (S. 1685) would reduce the disparity to 20 to 1 by lowering penalties for crack cocaine and leaving powder penalties unchanged (it is, thus, significantly better than the Sessions bill). The Biden bill (S. 1711) would completely eliminate the disparity by lowering crack penalties to equal those of powder.

Of the three bills, Senator Biden's bill is the only one to completely eliminate the disparity; and it would accomplish this without subjecting more Americans to draconian mandatory minimum sentences. His bill is the one the Senate should pass. Please take a minute to fax your Senators and urge them to co-sponsor Senator Biden's reform bill (S. 1711).

 

Take action now.

 

If you live in Delaware, please take a moment to call Senator Biden's Wilmington office and thank him for introducing a bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The office number is 302-573-6345.

 

More Information:

 

While it takes just five grams of crack cocaine (about two sugar packets worth) to receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence. 50 grams of crack cocaine triggers a ten-year sentence, but it takes 5,000 grams of powder cocaine - 5 kilos - to receive that much jail time.

 

Even though 66% of crack users are white, blacks make up more than 80% of federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine offenses. No other federal law is more responsible for gross racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system.

 

And although the crack mandatory minimums were enacted to punish major traffickers, the vast majority of people subjected to them are low-level offenders. A recent report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that almost 70% of federal crack cocaine defendants had only low-level involvement in drug activity.

 

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Tele-Press Conference: NY Rockefeller Drug Laws

New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform is debating overhauling the Rockefeller Drug Laws this week. Dozens of advocacy and community groups have united to reject half-steps and are demanding real reform. Please join leading advocates and family members at this tele-press conference to release a coalition statement to the Commission. The press release is at http://stopthedrugwar.org/in_the_trenches/2007/aug/27/press_release_tues... Call in information: 800-311-9404; Passcode: 740815 Some of the participants include: 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
Date: 
Tue, 08/28/2007 - 11:00am
Location: 
New York, NY
United States

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.”
Location: 
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.

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Veronica Flournoy, with NY Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, daughters Candace and Keeshana and mother Eileen (courtesy kunstler.org)
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.

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Alva Mae Groves (courtesy november.org)
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.

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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.

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