Mandatory Minimums

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Congressional Staff Briefing (House): Reforming Crack Cocaine Sentencing

On May 15, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) updated its 2002 Report to Congress on Federal Cocaine Sentencing. The USSC report once again finds that there is no rationale for the sentencing differences between the two forms of the drug. Under current law, possessing or selling 5 grams of crack cocaine results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law harshly punishes low-level offenders, and has had a disparate impact on African-American and low-income communities. Join us in a frank discussion on avenues for reform of this unjust law. Speakers to include: Lisa Rich, United States Sentencing Commission Hillary Shelton (Invited), NAACP, Washington Office Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship Moderated by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project & Jesselyn McCurdy of the ACLU RSVP by May 18 to Vee Campbell (vcampbell@osi-dc.org) or call (202) 721-5649.
Date: 
Mon, 05/21/2007 - 9:00am
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Opinion: A better bargain

Location: 
MD
United States
Publication/Source: 
Baltimore Sun
URL: 
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/bal-ed.drugs14may14,0,7788528.story?coll=bal-opinion-headlines

Governor Spitzer: Hip Hop Is Calling You Out!

Location: 
NY
United States
Publication/Source: 
Political Affairs (NY)
URL: 
http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/5249/1/258/

Maryland Action Alert -- Drug Sentencing Reform Bill Unexpectedly in Danger of Veto

(This action alert is going out to our Maryland subscribers in the AM. As a Marylander -- I live in Takoma Park now -- I'm officially upset at the governor. I knew he'd show himself to be a "fake" liberal when push came to shove on this issue. - Dave)

Last month a modest but important sentencing reform bill -- HB 992, which restores parole eligibility for second-time drug offenders -- was passed by the Maryland General Assembly. At the time Gov. O'Malley had indicated that he supported the bill. But now he has flip-flopped and is saying he may veto it.

Please call O'Malley's office and demand he stop playing politics with people's lives and sign HB 992. Mandatory minimums are a terrible injustice and are costly and ineffective public policy -- HB 922 is simply a no-brainer. CALL (800) 811-8336, OR FAX O'MALLEY A LETTER AT (410) 974-3275. (The address to use on your letter if writing is: The Honorable Martin O'Malley, State House, Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1925 -- be sure to use fax, though, there isn't enough time to rely on the US mail.) PLEASE FORWARD THIS ALERT TO YOUR FRIENDS IN MARYLAND TOO!!!

The organization Stop the Drug War (DRCNet) has a form set up online to make it easy to e-mail the governor -- I hope you will use this method too. Phone calls and individual faxed letters are the best, though, so if you can do one of those I hope you will. Please send me an e-mail, and send one to borden@drcnet.org to let me and DRCNet know you've taken action. Following is some background on HB 992, from the Justice Policy Institute:

When enacted, HB 992 would operate as follows:

  • HB 992 does not apply to violent offenders. HB 992 does not apply to third or fourth time offenders. HB 992 does not apply to volume dealers or drug kingpins.
  • A defendant is convicted of possession of intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. The defendant is a second-time offender and is subject to a 10-year mandatory sentence.
  • At sentencing, the judge will have available a presentence investigation report (PSI), prepared by Parole and Probation, that details the defendant's complete criminal history (arrests, convictions, warrants, etc.), family history, drug addiction and treatment (or lack thereof) history, and a recommended sentence range based on the defendant's offender score and offense. The judge will hear from defense counsel and the state's attorney concerning a sentence.
  • The defendant will be sentenced to 10 years of incarceration. If the defendant is not also guilty of a violent offense, the judge, after a full appraisal of the defendant and listening to argument and recommendations of the state's attorney and defense counsel, MAY sentence to 10 years with the POSSIBILITY of parole.
  • The defendant is confined within the Department of Corrections and waits a minimum of two and a half years for a parole hearing.
  • The parole commission then determines, based on the defendant's updated presentence investigation report (PSI), offense, offender score, impact statements, a letter from the state's attorney that originally prosecuted the case, and the defendant's "base file" -- i.e., complete institutional record prepared by a case manager detailing tickets, classes, work history, etc., and whether the inmate has an exit plan -- i.e. a job and place to live -- whether to parole the inmate.
  • If the inmate is paroled (which is unlikely on the first attempt) and complies with the conditions of his or her parole, the state saves approximately $100,000 and public safety is not impacted.
  • If the inmate is paroled (again, unlikely on the first attempt), the inmate is subject to supervised probation and, if the inmate fails to comply with his or her parole conditions, faces serving the entire balance of the 10-year sentence.

While HB 992 by no means does all we would want, it is a beginning. I hope you will take action -- thanks for helping us help Maryland's nonviolent drug offenders this year.

Location: 
Annapolis, MD
United States

Today is the 34th anniversary of the signing of New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws

[Courtesy of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, Inc. and Tony Papa] Today, May 8, marks the 34 year anniversary of the signing of New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws. In December of 2004 the laws were mildly modified but continue unabated to wreak untold havoc on poor communities of color across the Empire State. Below is a link to a powerful and edifying video/song written and performed by Hip-Hop megastar Jim Jones calling on Governor Spitzer to reform the cruel and unusual, and racially applied Rockefeller Drug Laws (now the Elliot Spitzer drug laws). The video serves as trailer for the newly released documentary Lockdown USA. Moreover, we have included a compelling editorial that appeared this week in the Huffington Post. The editorial was written by artist/activist and Rockefeller Drug Law survivor Anthony Papa. In the editorial, Mr. Papa urges not only the Governor Spitzer but also Lt. Governor David Patterson in particular NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to use their offices to follow through on their past commitment to push for the REPEAL of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Mr. Cuomo is one of the four major figures featured in the Lockdown USA documentary. All three public officials have been silent on the issue since their respective inaugurations. Mr. Papa, formerly of Mothers of the NY Disappeared, is now a media specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has worked closely with the NY Mothers and the Kunstler Fund for the past 9 years in the popular movement to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws.(www.drugpolicy.org). Jim Jones Lockdown, USA Song http://www.drugpolicy.org/statebystate/newyork/lockdownusa/ Huffington Post Spitzer, Cuomo and Paterson: Where Did You Go? by Anthony Papa May 8 marks the 34th anniversary of New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws. Despite a few recent reforms, which in theory would fix the draconian nature of these laws, little has been done and the campaign for meaningful reform continues. In fact, out of the current 13,000 Rockefeller prisoners, fewer than 300 have been freed under the revisions to date. In recent elections, a number of officials who went on record in support of real Rockefeller reform were voted into office. Governor Elliot Spitzer, for one, along with Lt. Governor David Paterson and Attorney General Cuomo all have spoken out for reform in the past. But now they are surprisingly silent on the issue. In 2004, I wrote a memoir of my experiences serving a 15-to-life sentence under these harsh laws. Andrew Cuomo, before he became our state's attorney general, threw a book release party for me at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Attending the event were prominent individuals like Senator David Paterson, along with many other influential guests. Cuomo and Paterson spoke bravely about changing these draconian laws. Spitzer, the then-attorney general of New York, did not attend but wrote a letter saying that my story was a "very personal and tragic story, like those of so many other nonviolent offenders languishing in our prisons on relatively minor drug offenses," and that it "illustrates the impact that our Rockefeller Drug Laws have had on a generation of New Yorkers. I applaud Mr. Papa's courage in speaking out and sharing his ordeal with the world." It was a moving event that generated a vision of changing the Rockefeller Drug Laws in a positive way. I find it strange that the people who had supported change in the past have now become so silent on the issue. My question is why do politicians who use political platforms to generate votes suddenly forget their past when elected to higher office? Governor Elliot Spitzer, does appear interested in correcting the criminal justice sector, as evidenced by his success in removing exorbitant charges on collect calls made by prisoners to their families, and his recent attempt to downsize half-empty prisons. But his laudable efforts have not cued in on the Rockefeller reform. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who has used this issue in the past to revive his political career has not uttered a word about it. And Lt. Governor David Paterson who represented a highly affected Harlem district as senator has steered away from the issue. Last week the New York State Assembly passed a bill for further reform of the Rockefeller Drug laws. Cheri O'Donoghue joined them at a press conference and talked about her son Ashley who is serving a 7 to 21 sentence for a first time non-violent drug offense. This mother grieved for the son she had lost to laws that had taken away her relationship with him. She asked why the Rockefeller Drug Laws had now not been a priority with so many politicians that had benefited from them in the past. No one could answer her question. It's time for Spitzer, Paterson and Cuomo to join the NYS Assembly and step up to the plate. They should remember their past intentions, especially when it affects the people who voted them into office.
Location: 
NY
United States

FAMM eGram: U.S. Sentencing Commission votes for changes to crack cocaine guidelines

[Courtesy of Families Against Mandatory Minimums] WASHINGTON, D.C.: For the first time in 12 years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has approved guideline changes to federal crack cocaine penalties, tonight by a 6-1 vote. The amendment affects approximately 78 percent of defendants convicted of crack cocaine offenses, reducing their sentences by an average of 16 months. It will now be sent to Congress on May 1, 2007, along with other proposed sentencing amendments. "While this incremental change is a far cry from the 'equalization' of crack and powder cocaine the Commission recommended in 1995, it is a long overdue first step to improving crack sentences," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national, nonpartisan sentencing reform organization. For 15 years the Commission has researched crack cocaine and its penalties and concluded current federal crack sentences are unjustifiable. Among the findings from its 2002 report to Congress, "Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy," are that crack penalties 1. exaggerate the relative harmfulness of crack cocaine 2. sweep too broadly and apply most often to lower level offenders 3. overstate the seriousness of most crack cocaine offenses and fail to provide adequate proportionality 4. and mostly impact minorities Despite this evidence, Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission have been in a stalemate for a dozen years over how to improve crack sentences. During that time, nearly 56,000 people were sentenced under the harsh federal crack cocaine statutes and guidelines. Now, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has taken the bold step of saying enough is enough. "While the Commission’s amendment does not solve the problem of excessive crack cocaine penalties it moves us closer to that goal, which is why FAMM supports the Commission's crack amendment," says Stewart. Congress has six months to consider the amendments before they automatically take effect on November 1, 2007. Congress would have to pass bills in both the House and Senate to stop the amendment. It is highly unlikely such an action will happen this year. If passed, the amendment will not affect people sentenced before November 1, 2007. The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s crack guideline amendment will be accompanied by language to Congress that urges them to address the crack cocaine mandatory minimum. Combined changes to the sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum statutes for crack cocaine would result in more appropriate penalties for roughly 5,000 defendants who face crack sentences each year. With their faces in mind, FAMM applauds the Commission for acting on an injustice that can no longer be tolerated. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes just sentencing policies. For more information, visit: www.famm.org.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

FedCURE News: USSC Reduces Crack Cocaine Offenses Up to 16 Months

For Immediate Release: April 27, 2007 Contact: Michael Courlander, Public Affairs Officer at (202) 502-4597 U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION VOTES TO AMEND GUIDELINES FOR TERRORISM, SEX OFFENSES, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OFFENSES, AND CRACK COCAINE OFFENSES WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 27, 2007) — The United States Sentencing Commission held its final public meetings for the 2006-2007 guideline amendment cycle, promulgating amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines today and on April 18, 2007, on several important issues. Among other actions, the Commission voted to promulgate and submit to Congress sentencing guideline amendments regarding offenses that include terrorism, sex offenses, and intellectual property offenses. It also took action to address sentencing disparities resulting from federal cocaine sentencing policies. On April 18, 2007, the Commission voted to promulgate amendments that include – - an amendment implementing provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007. The amendment establishes new guideline penalties for offenses created by the PATRIOT Reauthorization Act relating to (1) narco-terrorism, (2) smuggling of munitions or military equipment without the required validated export license, (3) mining of U.S. navigable waters, and (4) destroying or tampering with aids to maritime navigation. The amendment also addresses a new offense created by the Homeland Security Act pertaining to the construction, financing, or use of tunnels that cross the borders of the United States. - a multi-part amendment implementing the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The amendment establishes guideline penalties for failure to register as a sex offender and provides significant sentencing enhancements if a defendant commits certain offenses after failing to register. Further, the amendment creates another guideline provision that provides additional punishment for certain aggravated offenses related to the requirement to register as a sex offender. This additional penalty would run consecutive to any sentence imposed for the failure to register offense or any sentence imposed for an enumerated underlying offense. The amendment also implemented other provisions of the Adam Walsh Act that provided enhanced penalties for sexual offenses. - a temporary, emergency amendment that implemented a directive in the Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act regarding criminal infringement of copyright or trademark. Specifically, the amendment addresses convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 2318 (trafficking in counterfeit labels) and 18 U.S.C. § 2320 (trafficking in counterfeit goods or services). These offenses involve trafficking in counterfeit labels that are not affixed to goods. The amendment provides for increased sentences based on the retail value of the genuine good that the counterfeit label would help imitate if the label’s use would lead a reasonably informed purchaser to believe that the counterfeit good was an identifiable, genuine good. The amendment also provides increased sentences for cases involving use of a circumvention device under 7 U.S.C. §§ 1201 and 1204. Circumvention devices would include "mod" chips that allow game consoles to play pirated games. The amendment includes a specific sentencing enhancement for trafficking in such items. - emergency and permanent amendments implementing a directive in the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006. This Act creates a new offense at 18 U.S.C. § 1039 making it a crime to knowingly and falsely obtain confidential telephone records. The Commission implemented the directive by incorporating this new offense into an existing guideline covering other private or protected information (§2H3.1). - revisions to how a defendant’s criminal history score is computed for certain minor offenses. - guidance on motions by the Bureau of Prisons for reductions in sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). At its April 18, 2007, public meeting, the Commission also announced its intention to form a standing victims advisory group to provide the Commission with input regarding federal crime victimization. In addition to those earlier actions, the Commission unanimously announced today that it will submit to Congress on or before May 15, 2007, a report on federal cocaine sentencing policy. The report will set forth current data and information that continue to support the Commission’s consistently held position that the 100-to-1 crack-powder drug quantity ratio significantly undermines various congressional objectives set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act and elsewhere. The Commission also will make recommendations to Congress in the report for modifications to the statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses. At today’s meeting, the Commission expressed its firm desire that this report will facilitate prompt congressional action addressing the 100-to-1 crack-powder drug quantity ratio. The Commission also voted today to promulgate an amendment that modifies the penalties for crack cocaine offenses. The Commission described the problems associated with the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio as so urgent and compelling that it promulgated the guideline amendment as a measure to alleviate some of those problems. The statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses require a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine, and a ten-year mandatory minimum penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. When Congress established these penalties in 1986, the Commission responded by incorporating the statutory mandatory minimum sentences into the guidelines to provide guideline sentencing ranges that are above the statutory mandatory minimum penalties. First-time offenses involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine receive a sentencing guideline range of 63 to 78 months, and first-time offenses involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine receive a sentencing guideline range of 121 to 151 months, before accounting for other relevant factors under the guidelines. The Commission’s amendment modifies the guideline drug quantity thresholds to provide guideline sentencing ranges that include the statutory mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine offenses. Accordingly, under the amendment, a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams of crack cocaine will receive a guideline sentencing range of 51 to 63 months, and a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine will receive a guideline sentencing range of 97 to 121 months, before accounting for other relevant factors under the guidelines. Under the statutory mandatory minimum penalties, however, a five- and ten-year sentence will still be required, respectively. As a result, the Commission’s amendment provides some relief to crack cocaine offenders impacted by the disparity created by federal cocaine sentencing policy. The Commission emphasized and expressed its strong view that the amendment is only a partial solution to some of the problems associated with the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio. Any comprehensive solution to the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio would require appropriate legislative action by Congress. The text of the Commission’s amendments and its accompanying 2007 report to Congress, Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy, will be available in the coming weeks on the Commission’s website, www.ussc.gov. The Commission was established by Congress in 1985 to develop national sentencing guidelines for the federal courts. Any amendments made by the Commission to the guidelines must be submitted to Congress on or before May 1 of each year and become effective on November 1 if not disapproved by Congress. http://www.ussc.gov/PRESS/rel0407.htm
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative Update April 26, 2007

In this update: 1. IDPI helps attain a sentencing reform victory in Maryland 2. IDPI mobilizes 50 clergy to support a medical marijuana bill in Illinois and generates substantial media coverage 3. Troy Dayton moves on, Tyler Smith is promoted to associate director 4. You can raise $$$ for IDPI while you search the Internet! 5. Stay tuned for a forthcoming action alert about important federal legislation --------------------- IDPI helps attain a sentencing reform victory in Maryland IDPI played a crucial role in the recent passage of HB 992, establishing parole eligibility for second-time non-violent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences in Maryland. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws force judges to hand out harsh sentences for drug offenders, with no option to issue a lesser sentence based on the unique circumstances of the case, such as the defendant's role in the offense, likelihood of committing a future offense, or the role of drug addiction. Offenders sentenced to a mandatory minimum are not eligible for parole. These laws have resulted in large numbers of low-level, non-violent drug offenders clogging up the court and prison systems, racially disproportionate incarceration rates, and no appreciable decline in drug problems. (See http://www.idpi.us/resources/factsheets/mm_factsheet.htm for more information.) With nearly 5,000 drug offenders in prison in Maryland, the new law will result in an unanticipated opportunity for early release for some. Working with the Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration, an alliance of organizations concerned with criminal justice reform in Maryland, IDPI Associate Director Tyler Smith recruited and prepared the pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. church of Fort Washington (with 15,000 members), the Rev. Dr. Grainger Browning, to testify before both the Legislative Black Caucus and the judiciary committee of the House of Delegates. IDPI also reached out to dozens of clergy and hundreds of our members in Maryland to persuade them to contact key legislators. We even got the priest of a Catholic church that the House Judiciary Committee chair sometimes attends to urge support of the bill! In the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, former prosecutor Reverend Jonathan Newton, also of Ebenezer A.M.E., testified in favor of the bill on behalf of Rev. Dr. Browning and IDPI. Under the old state law, people convicted of a second offense of selling drugs faced a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. The new law, expected to be signed by the governor in May, will allow all but those also convicted of violent crimes to seek parole. The coalition has been working for a few years to repeal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws in Maryland. While the new law still doesn't go far enough, it is a compromise that will help many drug offenders. We are delighted to have played an important role in getting this bill passed. Click here to see the testimony delivered to the House of Delegates. http://www.idpi.us/dpr/writings/writings_speech.htm -------------------------- 2. IDPI mobilizes 50 clergy to support a medical marijuana bill in Illinois and generates substantial media coverage IDPI did an outreach mailing to clergy in Illinois, signed by Presbyterian minister Bob Hillenbrand, asking them to sign the resolution: "Licensed medical practitioners should not be punished for recommending the medical use of marijuana to seriously ill patients, and seriously ill patients should not be subject to criminal sanctions for using marijuana if the patients' medical practitioners have told them that such use is likely to be beneficial." IDPI activist and Illinois resident Allen Penticoff was instrumental in recruiting Pastor Hillenbrand to this effort. He showed tremendous resourcefulness and initiative responding to our call for help finding a member of the clergy willing to be the original signer of our letter. Fifty religious leaders from eleven denominations responded to the mailing, urging the Illinois senate to pass SB 650 to allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana. We subsequently sent a letter featuring the statement signed by fifty Illinois religious leaders to all members of the state senate. Many of the clergypersons followed up by making phone calls to their senators. Then we distributed a news release and called dozens of reporters. This coalition of clergy urging compassion for medical marijuana patients has made big news in Illinois and even resulted in an article in the Los Angeles Times! Click on the link below to see the stories on our website (and the list of clergy). http://idpi.us/inthenews/inthenews_ILbig_news.htm So far, five newspaper articles have been published and one radio segment aired (on Chicago NPR) that feature or mentioned religious support for medical marijuana. The senate is expected to vote on the bill within the next few weeks. -------------------------- 3. Troy Dayton moves on to other work, Tyler Smith is promoted to associate director Troy Dayton, IDPI's associate director since November of 2003, has moved on to work as senior development officer for two allied drug policy reform groups. Troy did a magnificent job at IDPI mobilizing faith leaders to support drug policy reform and raising money for our efforts. In fact, he did such a good job at the latter that the other two organizations made him offers he couldn't refuse. We will miss Troy's presence, but we're delighted for our allies that now employ Troy. Tyler was hired as IDPI's field director in July of 2006, and now he’s the new associate director. He looks forward to strengthening and expanding IDPI's work in the religious community. --------------------------- 4. You can raise $$$ for IDPI while you search the Internet! We depend on and appreciate the financial support that you give us. Here's a way to contribute to our work that won't cost you anything! GoodSearch is a search engine which donates 50-percent of its revenue to the charities and schools designated by its users. It's a simple and compelling concept. You use GoodSearch exactly as you would any other search engine. Because it's powered by Yahoo!, you get proven search results. The money GoodSearch donates to your cause comes from its advertisers -- the users and the organizations do not spend a dime! The Goodsearch website has two bars on it, the top one is your search bar, the bottom one is where you just type in "IDPI" which tells Goodsearch which charity gets the donation. Every time you do, we get a few pennies. With thousands of our supporters and friends participating, this will add up! We urge all of our supporters to use Goodsearch as their primary web-searching site. http://www.goodsearch.com And, of course, please remember that we need regular donations, too! Please visit http://www.idpi.us and click on the "donate" button to make a contribution. --------------------------- 5. We know that you're busy and probably don't have time to read all of our messages, but if you happen to be reading this one, we urge you to be sure to read the action alert that we'll be sending in a few days. We've been calling on state and local supporters and friends in recent months to help on important projects, but now there are a couple of federal developments on which we need everyone's help. Stay tuned! All the best, Charles Thomas, executive director Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative P.O. Box 6299 Washington, DC 20015 301-270-4473 charlesthomas@idpi.us http://www.idpi.us
Location: 
United States

Open Letter: You Screwed Up the "Snitch" Story, Anderson Cooper

Dear Mr. Cooper:

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
As a CNN viewer who generally appreciates your work, I was stunned by how badly your report on the "Stop Snitching" movement missed the mark. It's easy to find someone willing to make an extreme statement, as hip-hop artist Cameron Giles did when he said he wouldn't report a serial murderer. But do you really think the most extreme voice on the airwaves is the one that merits such a large portion of the face time in your report?

My issue is not with the criticisms leveled at people like Giles or the Stop Snitching movement. My concern is over that which was not said. For example, the most interesting moment in the piece was David Kennedy's comment about police tactics in the war on drugs. However, you did not offer even a second sentence about that on the screen (at least in the CNN version) for Prof. Kennedy to elaborate on what those tactics might be or why they might have such an effect. Do you really consider those three seconds to constitute an adequate fulfillment of your professional responsibility to provide balanced and informative reporting?

A real examination of the "snitching" issue was provided in Ofra Bikel's 1999 documentary for Frontline, "Snitch." One of the prisoners Bikel interviewed, Clarence Aaron, received three life sentences while in college at age 23 because of a minor role in a drug transaction -- "conspiracy," as the government calls it. All the other participants got less time, even though their responsibility level in the deal had been greater. Aaron's cousin James, in fact, was sentenced to mere probation -- in exchange for testifying against Aaron -- and walked out of the courtroom a free man.

According to Aaron, his cousin told him that he "had to do what [he] had to do" and that that included lying to the jury. One of the objectives of prosecutor Deborah Griffin, apparently, was to cause a mistrial and force Aaron to switch to a less skilled attorney than the one he had, and she was able to use James to manipulate the situation to bring that about. If James didn't cooperate, he told Aaron, she threatened to "put [him] in prison for the rest of [his] life."

Of course, Aaron is still in prison today. You can read a little more about him in a column by the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders here. She writes about him every year, at Christmas pardon time, so far to no avail.

Unfortunately, Aaron's case is unusual mainly for how much attention it's gotten. The exchange of leniency -- or even money -- for testimony that will help the prosecution is an absolutely routine tactic in the drug war. The DEA, in fact, continued to use a "super-snitch" named Andrew Chambers for numerous prosecutions after a court had determined him to be a repeat perjurer. Common sense tells us that testimony acquired in this way is not always reliable. It is a disgusting commentary on the state of our justice system that prosecutors would use a tactic like that so often. The fact that the mandatory minimum laws that garnered Aaron his life sentences were passed by Congress with neither hearings nor expert advice in other forms (according to my colleague Eric Sterling who appeared in Bikel's report), is equally troubling. The use of these laws to imprison minor offenders for long periods of time is also very common, but the term "mandatory minimum" did not appear in your report even once. Nor did you mention it was an anonymous informant's incorrect tip that led to the killing of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston by police officers in a no-knock raid in CNN's own hometown of Atlanta last year.

Research by the Sentencing Project has found that literally one in three young black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are under the supervision of the criminal justice system -- prison, jail, probation or parole -- on any given day. Here in Washington the numbers are even higher. How difficult must it be for all of these people with convictions on their records to go on to find legitimate jobs? What kind of impact does such a massive and ongoing operation have on the bonds of family, friendship, or community? How many of these people go to jail or prison, what kinds of things do they learn there, how many of them catch serious diseases there and bring them back out? How often do they receive harsh mandatory minimum sentences like Clarence Aaron? At a conference I attended recently, a professor from Morehouse College, lamenting the situation, delivered a talk entitled "Where are the Men?" What should we be doing differently, or for that matter what should we stop doing, in order to address this? What does all of this do to change people, mostly in ways that we don't want, to cause more crime? I simply do not believe that one in three black men in this age group are criminals in any meaningful sense of the word.

I respectfully suggest it is the overuse and misuse of the criminal justice system -- not the words of some rappers -- that are the primary reasons anti-police sentiment in some of our communities runs so deep. I urge you to do a follow-up report to take a deeper look at these issues. After all, just because Lou Dobbs thinks we can stop drugs at the border doesn't make it so -- and if we could people would just use more of the drugs that can be grown or manufactured here. We therefore need to change the way we deal with drugs in a fundamental sense. Ending the disgraceful practice of purchasing or coercing testimony from "snitches" to send people away for years or decades would be a start.

Don't be a part of the problem, Mr. Cooper, be a part of the solution -- talk about this.

Sincerely,


David Borden, Executive Director
Stop the Drug War
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Advocates say Rockefeller drug laws remain too harsh

Location: 
Albany, NY
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Ithaca Journal (NY)
URL: 
http://www.theithacajournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070419/NEWS01/704190373/1002

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