Sentencing

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Marc Mauer Testifies on Mandatory Minimum Sentencing at House

Friends: Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, testifies Tuesday, June 26, 2007 on the issue of Mandatory Minumum Sentencing before the House Judiciary Subcommitee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Mauer's testimony focuses on the experience with the current generation of mandatory sentencing policies in the federal system, the vast majority of which have been applied to drug offenses, and the lessons we should learn from that in order to develop more effective public policy. The main themes he will address include: Mandatory sentencing policies have been largely based on false premises, and are particularly unwise in the federal system; - Mandatory penalties in the federal system have not proven to achieve their objectives; and -A variety of policy initiatives could be enacted that would result in more fair and effective sentencing, and would produce better public safety results. See http://sentencingproject.org/Admin%5CDocuments%5Cpublications%5Csl_testi... to view his testimony.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

High Court Bolsters Sentencing Guidelines

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Christian Science Monitor
URL: 
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0622/p25s01-usju.htm

Middle East: Iran Hangs Four for Drug Trafficking

Iranian authorities hanged four convicted drug traffickers Saturday in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, according to a report from the ISNA news agency. The hangings bring the number of executions in Iran this year to 102. The Islamic republic executed 177 people last year, according to a report from Amnesty International.

The executed were Malek S., convicted of trafficking 2.3 pounds of heroin; Javad S., convicted of possessing 63 pounds of opium; and Qasem and Kavoos (no last name or initial provided), both convicted of possessing weapons and 339 pounds of opium.

Under Iranian law, capital crimes include not only murder, treason, and espionage, but also rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, repeated sodomy, adultery, or prostitution, and serious drug trafficking offenses.

Middle East: Dubai Sentences Two More Westerners To Prison Over Infinitesimal Amounts of Drugs

The Dubai Court of First Instance has sentenced two more Westerners to four-year prison terms for possessing tiny amounts of illicit drugs as they transited the Dubai airport. Four years is the minimum sentence for drug possession in the United Arab Emirates.

In the first case, a 25-year-old Britain, identified only as W.H., was sent to prison last week for possessing 0.07 grams of marijuana and two tiny slivers of hashish. The unfortunate Briton told the court he did not intend to bring drugs to Dubai, but merely forget the drug remnants were in his pockets. He will be deported after serving his sentence.

This week, a Canadian citizen employed as a consultant for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and an advisor to the Afghan Poppy Elimination Program was sent to prison for possessing 0.06 grams of hashish. The Dubai courts do not identify defendants, but Canadian press reports named him as Herbert William Tatham of Vancouver.

Tatham's attorney, Saeed Al Gailani, said during an earlier hearing that Tatham was returning from taking part in a drug eradication campaign and that he must have picked up the drug traces in the course of his work. "His trousers must have mistakenly picked up the tiny quantity of hashish," the lawyer had said.

But Dubai's Court of First Instance did not care.

Response from former ONDCP official to my China/death penalty post

On Friday I posted a piece on China's use of the death penalty for drug offenses, criticizing the UN, and secondarily the US, for programs that I believe are inadvertently feeding into this. My criticism of the US related to a drug enforcement cooperation agreement with China that was put in place in 2000 by then-Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Barry McCaffrey. I got an email over the weekend from Bob Weiner, who served as ONDCP's Director of Public Affairs from 1995-2001, submitting these comments for the blog:
David, Saw your piece… The arrangement with China never was intended to mandate or magnify their death penalty -- they are choosing their own enforcement tools, which as so many human rights abuses in China are excessive. The arrangement—and I was there and organized the news conference with US (including Gen. McCaffrey) and Chinese officials—was simply to get them to agree with us in enforcing international drug laws and treaties. What we saw there, including thousands of people in treatment factories but not getting real treatment, and the unbridled flow of methamphetamine and opium, was unconscionable.
Location: 
China

Doctor or Drug Pusher?

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
New York Times Magazine
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/17/magazine/17pain-t.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=magazine&adxnnlx=1182016857-gcS2JRBs7yjV8je/2IeroQ

Is another drug war bloodbath just around the corner?

Update: response from former ONDCP official who worked on the US-China agreement Death sentence is passed against a
woman who was immediately executed
with three other people on drugs charges.
(UN International Anti-Drugs Day, 6/26/03)
www.sina.com.cn via AI web site) One of the sick annual rituals in the global drug war has been China's annual round of executions of supposed drug offenders marking the occasion of the UN's "International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking," held June 26th of every year. We wrote about this last year and in most previous years. I wrote an editorial about it in 2000, which went over some of the highly troubling information Amnesty International has published about China's drug death penalties, and in which I criticized then-drug czar Barry McCaffrey for putting in place an arrangement with China for cooperation in drug enforcement between our two countries, and the UN for holding this international event year after year even though they obviously are aware that it continues to prompt such carnage. I believe that handing over criminal defendants to totalitarian regimes with limited due process rights and draconian death sentences for nonviolent offenses is immoral, and makes us complicit in the human rights abuses that those nations may commit against people we wind up sending into their clutches. But the UN's annual Day doesn't even have a law enforcement justification. We have a statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon about the upcoming Day online here. I'm posting a few examples from Amnesty that illustrate why I really feel this is an important human rights issue that we as taxpayers should not be indirectly supporting, even if that puts some obstacles in the way of global policing efforts or puts a crimp in the UN's promotion of prevention and treatment programs: The Death Penalty in China: Breaking Records, Breaking Rules, August 1997 AI report:
In a case that is illustrative of many more, a young woman, returning to Guangzhou province from her honeymoon in Kunming in January 1996, agreed to take a package for an acquaintance in return for some money. Acting as a courier in this manner is common practice in China. It was reported that during the train journey she became suspicious about the contents of the package and tried to open it. When she found she couldn’t open it she began to realize it was drugs. She then allegedly became so nervous and agitated that the ticket checker on train became suspicious and discovered the package. She was sentenced to death on 26 June 1996 by Guangxi High People’s Court.
AI 1998 Annual Report on China:
Ji Xiaowei, a Hong Kong citizen sentenced to death in southern China for alleged drug-trafficking, claimed on appeal that he had confessed under torture during police interrogation. The appeal court ignored his claim and confirmed the death sentence. He was executed on 18 July.
AI Report 2005:
Ma Weihua, a woman facing the death penalty on drugs charges, was reportedly forced to undergo an abortion in police custody in February, apparently so that she could be put to death "legally" as Chinese law prevents the execution of pregnant women. She had been detained in January in possession of 1.6kg of heroin. Her trial, which began in July, was suspended after her lawyer provided details of the forced abortion. She was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in November.
There has been some talk in China recently of making the use of the death penalty more transparent and reducing its use, and that is welcome. Reportedly there has been about a 10% drop. But China is still the world leader in this. So is anyone interested in an international campaign to get the UN to cancel International Anti-Drugs Day and to subject global law enforcement cooperation to human rights standards? China is by no means the only country executing people for drug offenses. Write me through the site or send me an email. I'd appreciate any links you have to especially important articles or web sites dealing with this topic. Lastly, we have a topical archive on the site for the Death Penalty, here and also available via RSS.
Location: 
United States

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

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