Mandatory Minimums

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Medical Marijuana: Bryan Epis Re-Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison

Bryan Epis, the first California medical marijuana provider tried in federal court for growing marijuana, was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in federal prison -- again. Epis was convicted in 2002 of growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants and served 25 months of his original 10-year sentence before being released on appeal bond.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bordenepis.jpg
David Borden and Bryan Epis at the 2005 NORML conference
The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had ordered the lower court to reconsider Epis' conviction, but it found him guilty again.

Epis argued all along that he was a medical marijuana patient who worked with other patients within California law at a medical marijuana grow in Chico. But prosecutors portrayed him as an entrepreneurial mastermind with plans to distribute marijuana across the state.

In an unusual move, Circuit Court Judge Frank Damrell refused prosecution requests to immediately take Epis into custody, noting that the 9th Circuit had earlier ordered him released "without comment," a move Damrell described as "unprecedented in my experience. The law requires such an action be supported by exceptional circumstances, so I can only assume that they found exceptional circumstances," Damrell said. "My suspicion is the 9th Circuit would grant bail again," the judge added.

Damrell set an October 22 hearing date for a forthcoming motion for bail pending appeal.

Epis' attorney, Brenda Grantland, has argued that prosecutor Samuel Wong and DEA agents intentionally misinterpreted documents seized at Epis' home when it was searched in June 1997. Wong described the documents as a statewide marketing plan, saying Epis' "goal was to go statewide and use Proposition 215 as a shield to manufacture and traffic marijuana."

Grantland told Damrell that the 9th Circuit was "very interested" in her allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and perjury by narcotics officers in the case. Damrell agreed that the appeals court "may have some interest" in the issues Grantland raised.

For his part, Epis told the court he was a martyr for medical marijuana.
"If Proposition 215 had not passed, I wouldn't be standing here today," Epis told Damrell. "I'm being prosecuted because I have a heart. I've seen too many people suffer and die from cancer and AIDS not to try to help them. I'm not ashamed of what I did, but I am sorry for my family."

Pain Patients: Florida Prisoner Richard Paey is Pardoned

Richard Paey, the wheelchair-bound Florida pain patient sentenced to 25 years in prison as a drug dealer for seeking desperately-needed medications, may be a free man by the time you read this. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) granted Paey a full pardon on Thursday after a brief hearing in Tallahassee. Paey and his family had only sought clemency.

Paey was severely injured in a 1985 auto accident. A New Jersey physician provided him with prescriptions for necessary pain relievers, but when Paey moved to Florida he took pre-signed prescription forms with him. He was arrested in 1997 and charged with illegally possessing and trafficking in about 700 pain pills obtained with those prescriptions.

Under Florida's draconian drug laws, persons in possession of that amount of pain medication are treated as drug traffickers. Standing on principle, Paey refused plea offers from the state and was ultimately convicted and sentenced to the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence.

Paey's case became a cause celebre for the country's growing pain patient and doctor movement. In August, the governor's office announced that it would grant a waiver allowing Paey to seek clemency. In most cases, inmates cannot seek clemency until they have serve 1/3 of their time.

Thursday, Gov. Crist and three members of the Florida cabinet heard Paey's appeal for clemency. Though the state's parole commission had recommended against granting time-served, Crist went further, granting him a full pardon and ordering he be released immediately. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Crist allowed Paey's attorney, John Flannery to speak for nearly 30 minutes -- the usual time limit is five minutes, then allowed Paey's wife, three children and a family friend to speak as well.

Crist then commented, "I want to move that we grant a full pardon," continuing, "We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace," the governor said. "Congratulations... and I state he should be released today."

For further information on the Paey case, click here.

Richard Paey's Torturers Must be Held Accountable

As we celebrate Richard Paey's freedom today, it is important to remember that his tragic fate was no accident. Many people worked very hard at tax-payers' expense to put this innocent and miserable man behind bars. They deserve recognition today as well.

Certainly, these events vividly depict the insanity of a war on drugs that targets seriously ill people for trying to treat their own pain:
State prosecutors concede there's no evidence Paey ever sold or gave his medication away. Nevertheless, under draconian drug-war statutes, these prosecutors could pursue distribution charges against him based solely on the amount of medication he possessed (the unauthorized possession of as few as 60 tablets of some pain medications can qualify a person as a "drug trafficker"). [National Review]
Yet, as Radley Balko revealed at National Review, the persecution of Richard Paey involved so much more than the reckless enforcement of short-sighted laws. This was a prolonged and deliberate campaign on the part of malicious prosecutors and vengeful prison officials.

*Prosecutors blamed Paey's harsh sentence on Paey himself, claiming that he should have accepted a plea bargain. As Balko explains, they essentially retaliated against him for asserting his factual innocence and insisting on his right to a jury trial.

*Prison officials transferred Paey further away from his family after he gave a New York Times interview that was critical of the State of Florida.

*Prison medical staff threatened to withhold Paey's medication, also in apparent retaliation for his interview with the New York Times. Since he could die without it, this was the functional equivalent of a death threat and caused him great distress.

Now that Florida's Governor and Cabinet have concluded that Paey did nothing wrong, it is time to examine the way he was treated throughout this great travesty. If there are sociopaths working in Florida's criminal justice system, that's something Governor Crist would want to know about. If we can afford to imprison people for decades in order to protect ourselves from drugs, surely we can also afford to evaluate public servants who wield extraordinary power in order to ensure that they aren't deeply disturbed.

Mentally healthy people do not persecute the seriously ill, even if the drug war says it's ok.
Location: 
United States

Richard Paey Receives Full Pardon

The plight of Richard Paey has been shocking even by the drug war's rock bottom standards. Sentenced to 25 years in a Florida prison for possession of the pain medication he used to treat his own crippling back pain, Paey spent the last 3½ years behind bars.

Today, he is free:
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet voted unanimously to grant Paey a full pardon Thursday morning for his 2004 conviction on drug trafficking and possession charges.

"We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace," the governor said. "Congratulations … and I state he should be released today."

With that, Paey's wife Linda, their three children, a family friend and attorney John Flannery II hugged and cried at the podium, the entire cabinet meeting room erupting into applause at 9:40 a.m. [St. Petersburg Times]
Justice in the war on drugs is a rare spectacle, and it is just delightful to witness. We've reported endlessly on this case, as have so many others, and it is wonderful to find that these efforts have not been in vain.
Location: 
United States

The justice system in America is not color blind, study shows

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Pensacola News Journal (FL)
URL: 
http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070802/NEWS01/708020329/1006

I'm as angry as I've been in a long time over this one...

This one has me as angry as I've been in a long time. Tampa Bay, Florida, area resident Mark O'Hara served two years of a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for 58 Vicodin pills. (Vicodin is an opiate pain reliever.) Sound like an extreme sentence for such a small amount, even if it was trafficking as the charges read? But there's more. O'Hara had a prescription for the pills. He's a pain patient. His doctor confirmed that he had prescribed the Vicodin to O'Hara and that he had been treating O'Hara for years. But prosecutors moved against him, and -- astonishingly -- argued to the judge that the jury shouldn't be informed that O'Hara had a prescription for the Vicodin, because there's no "prescription defense." And the judge -- doubly astonishingly -- actually bought it. Never mind the fact that the drug law O'Hara was charged with violating specifically exempts people who have a prescription. The appellate judges who threw out his conviction used words like "ridiculous" and "absurd" to describe it. Sickeningly, prosecutors have yet to say that O'Hara is off the hook and won't be taken to trial again. I think we need to organize on this one and press the system to do justice to the prosecutors and judge for the terrible atrocity they committed against Mark O'Hara. Knowingly imprisoning an innocent person is the functional equivalent of kidnapping. It should be treated as such. Prosecutors Mark Ober and Darrell Dirks should be in chains; their continued status as individuals holding power in the criminal justice system poses a threat to the safety of all Americans. The judge who enabled the kidnapping, Ronald Ficarrotta, may only be completely incompetent, but I'm not sure he should get that benefit of the doubt. Read more at Reason.
Location: 
Tampa, FL
United States

Maryland FAMM Gathering

Join FAMM at Allen Pond Park in Bowie, MD for a gathering to honor the Maryland legislators and volunteers who worked diligently on the Maryland sentencing reform bill (HB 992 and S. 624). There will be music and refreshments. Awards will be presented at noon. Invitied guests: Senator Lisa Gladden (District 41) Delegate Curt Anderson (District 43) All are welcome! Bring your family and friends for a fun day at the park. Look for FAMM signs as you enter the park. For directions, use Mapquest or call Bessie Morgan at (301) 386-3417.
Date: 
Sat, 07/07/2007 - 11:00am - 3:00pm
Location: 
3330 Northview Drive
Bowie, MD 20716
United States

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

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.org/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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