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Michael Mukasey's Cracked Crack Logic

One of the reasons to already be unhappy with the choice of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General is his opposition to retroactively applying the minor sentencing reductions that the US Sentencing Commission enacted for federal crack cocaine prisoners. Former prisoner Malakkar Vohryzek has called him out for fear-mongering distortions on the issue over at D'Alliance. With a little number crunching, Vohryzek finds that in New York City, for example, if every application for a sentencing reduction is approved, all of eight people serving crack cocaine sentences will get out an return to the community a little early. Yet Mukasey has somehow predicted a "crime wave." Shame on him. The NAACP's Hilary Shelton -- a stalwart of the campaign to restore college aid eligibility to students who've lost it because of drug convictions, an effort many of you have read about here -- had strong words for Mukasey (via the Sentencing Law and Policy blog):
The NAACP was both saddened and offended by Attorney General Michael Mukasey's call for Congress to override the decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to apply their May 2007 decision to reduce the recommended mandatory minimum sentencing range for conviction of possession of crack cocaine retroactive to those already in prison. "Attorney General Mukasey's characterization of people currently in prison for crack cocaine convictions, and of the impact that a potential reduction in their sentences could have on our communities, is not only inaccurate and disingenuous, but it is alarmist and plays on the worst fears and stereotypes many Americans had of crack cocaine users in the 1980s," said NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary O. Shelton. "The fact that a federal judge will be called to review every case individually and take into account if there were other factors involved in the conviction, whether it be the use of a gun, violence, death or the defendant's criminal history before determining if the retroactivity can apply, appears to have eluded the Attorney General," Shelton added. "Furthermore, because more than 82 percent of those currently in prison for federal crack cocaine convictions are African Americans and 96 percent are racial or ethnic minorities, the NAACP is deeply concerned at the Attorney General's callous characterization that many of the people in question are 'violent gang members'."
Also quoted on Sentencing Law and Policy, criticism of Mukasey by the New York Times.
Location: 
United States

Search and Seizure: The Smell of a Burning Joint Does Not Justify a Warrantless Entry, US Fourth Circuit Holds

Police who entered an apartment after smelling marijuana being smoked there violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals held in a late January ruling. Evidence found during a subsequent search with a search warrant based on that illegal entry must also be thrown out, the court held.

The decision came in US v. Mowatt, in which Bladensburg, Maryland, police showed up at the door of Karim Mowatt's 10th floor apartment to investigate a noise complaint. They smelled marijuana and demanded they be allowed to enter the apartment, but Mowatt refused, repeatedly asking if they had a search warrant. Police then claimed they feared Mowatt had a weapon, forced their way in, and found guns and drugs. Police then used the evidence they found at the apartment to get a search warrant to further search the apartment. Based on contraband found there, Mowatt was charged with various drug and gun offenses.

Before trial, the trial judge denied Mowatt's motions to suppress the evidence, buying prosecutors' contentions that the warrantless entry was lawful because "the risk of destruction of the evidence of marijuana possession constituted exigent circumstances." Mowatt was found guilty in May 2006 and sentenced to a total of 16 years and 5 months.

The 4th Circuit disagreed, noting it was only the arrival of the officers at the door that created any exigent circumstances. "[A]lthough the officers had every right to knock on Mowatt's door to try to talk to him about the complaint... without a warrant, they could not require him to open it," Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote. The officers "needed only to seek a warrant before confronting the apartment's occupants," Traxler wrote. "By not doing so, they set up the wholly foreseeable risk that the occupants, upon being notified of the officers' presence, would seek to destroy the evidence of their crimes."

US Attorney Rod Rosenstein, who argued the case, wasn't happy, he told the Maryland Daily Record. "The implications of this opinion are very broad for what police officers should do in this situation -- which isn't an uncommon one," he said. He added that he is working with the Justice Department to decide whether to appeal the decision.

Feature: With More Cuts Proposed in Drug Task Force Grant Program, Battle to Restore Funding Moves to Two Tracks

Even as law enforcement and its allies in Congress move to restore funding for the embattled Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, which is best known for funding the legions of state- and local-level multi-jurisdictional drug task forces that now roam the land, the Bush administration has struck again, this time proposing folding it into a broader grants program and funding it at only $200 million. Now, law enforcement will have to fight a rear-guard action to get back last year's cuts while at the same time having to try to persuade Congress to undo the cuts proposed in this year's budget.

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Sen. Harkin leads press conference calling for restoration of Byrne funding
It's not that the Bush administration is averse to funding drug war activities. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) fact sheet on Justice Department spending, the DEA is seeing its budget increased slightly to just over $1.9 billion, the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force is also getting a slight increase, to $532 million, and the new Southwest Border Enforcement Initiative would throw another $100 million at drugs, guns, and violent gangs on the border. The 2009 Bush budget also allocates hundreds of millions of dollars for Plan Colombia and its new baby brother, Plan Mexico.

Funded at $520 million last year, the two-decade old JAG program that allows states to supplement their anti-drug spending with federal tax dollars was already down substantially from previous funding levels. For the past three years, as a cost-cutting move, the Bush administration has tried to zero it out completely, but that has proven extremely unpopular with Congress. This year, the House voted to fund the block grant portion of the program at $600 million and the Senate at $660 million, but in last-minute budget negotiations, the White House insisted the funding be cut to $170 million.

While federal funding for law enforcement drug task forces would appear to be a sacred cow in a law-and-order Republican administration, there are several reasons the JAG program is a tempting target for cost-cutters, said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and former counsel for the House Judiciary Committee.

"First, Bush is not running for reelection, so there is no political cost in that sense," Sterling said. "And if Congress does listen to the cops, Bush can blame Congress for exceeding his budget."

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The second reason has to do with conservative fiscal ideology, said Sterling. "The typical Republican position is to let the states pay for state and local programs. It's a states' rights and states' responsibilities sort of position," he said. "And given the way their budgets have bankrupted the federal government, they have to cut somewhere."

And the pressure of looming cuts feeds into the third reason JAG is now on the line: bureaucratic imperatives. "The budget deficit is a real headache for all agencies," Sterling said. "For a manager within the Department of Justice faced with cuts that would lay off FBI agents or US Marshals or faced with cutting a program that only gives money to someone else, the choice is easy. It's much easier for Justice to say 'let's cut this.'"

That sort of decision is made a little easier by a 2005 OMB report that undoubtedly is one of the underpinnings of the Bush administration's effort to cut the program. OMB described the program as "results not demonstrated," and found that it scored extremely poorly when assessed for planning and design, strategic management, and results and accountability. The same sort of assessments lay behind other drug war programs the administration has cut or attempted to cut, such as the drug czar's youth media program and the National Drug Intelligence Center, which is once again on the chopping block.

As the Chronicle noted in our recent report on the battle over JAG program funding, the drug task forces have been repeatedly criticized by drug reform, civil liberties, and civil rights organizations as out-of-control cowboys responsible for scandals like Tulia and Hearne, Texas. But such criticisms have played no noticeable role in the administration's assault on the program.

Nor have they resonated with a bipartisan group of senators who last week announced they would seek to reinstate 2008 fiscal year funding for the JAG program at a level of $660 million. Led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the effort is also being backed by Sens. Kit Bond (R-MO), Joe Biden (D-DE), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

"Without financial support, Iowa communities are forced to combat crime and drugs with fewer and fewer resources. More than 10 Iowa counties have been forced to shut down their task forces because of funding cuts. This gutting of drug prevention programs cannot continue," Harkin said at a press conference announcing the move. "My aim is to restore Byrne Grants to a level that will give local law enforcement officials in Iowa and across the country ample funding for already successful anti-crime and anti-drug initiatives."

The senators' initiative is being supported and prodded by a powerful coalition of law enforcement groups, including the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA), the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition, and the National Association of County Officials.

"Let there be no room for doubt, communities everywhere will see the effects of this bill and its cuts to criminal justice funding," said NCJA president David Steingraber. "A cut to the JAG program is a cut to local law enforcement and victims of crime everywhere. Congress has just made the job of every police officer in this country more difficult. Members of Congress have turned their backs on local law enforcement officers who are now forced to make due without significant federal assistance," Steingraber said. "It is our hope these drastic cuts are not a long-term solution to a federal fiscal problem. The safety of our nation is far too important and deserves adequate funding, with violent crime back on the rise".

But despite the formidable lobbying power of the police and their allies, the future of JAG funding remains in doubt. And drug reformers will unite with fiscal conservatives and the Bush administration in a strange alliance to try to keep the funding cuts intact.

"The reason the JAG funding was cut at the last minute last year was that it was obvious that Bush would veto it, and it remains clear that he pretty much wants to eliminate it," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This year's appropriations process is just starting, but what is interesting and hopeful is that because Bush wants to eliminate it completely, that is going to make it harder for the Democrats to restore last year's funding."

But not impossible. As law enforcement proponents of restoring the money told the Chronicle last week, they will try to get it back any way they can, including attaching it to either the economic stimulus package or the supplemental war funding appropriation. It's the latter that has Piper worried.

"The Iraq supplemental doesn't have to fit within the overall budget, and Bush would be reluctant to veto his war spending bill," he said. "I know law enforcement and some senators are already talking about this. Our challenge is to reach out to fiscal conservative organizations and craft a message that funding shouldn't be restored, but if it is, it should be earmarked for treatment. It can already be used for that, but most states don't."

The JAG grant program is but one line item in a record-breaking, deficit-building, $3 trillion dollar 2009 federal budget. But it is one line item that could stand to be completely eliminated. That probably won't happen this year, but it seems likely the drug task forces are going to have to limp along with reduced funding, persuade state and local governments to cough up more money, or go out of business once and for all.

Sentencing: Mukasey Tells Congress to Pass Bill Blocking Early Release for Crack Prisoners

US Attorney General Michael Mukasey took his campaign against retroactive early releases for people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws to a new level Wednesday as he called on Congress to pass legislation by March 3 to block the releases. This week's call to arms comes just a few days after Mukasey first sounded the alarm about the release of crack prisoners, raising the specter of thousands of criminals pouring out of the nation's prisons and wreaking havoc on the streets.

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Michael Mukasey -- the mini-Ashcroft
Mukasey is responding to a decision by the US Sentencing Commission in December to make changes in the crack sentencing guidelines retroactive so they will apply to about 20,000 prisoners doing time under the crack laws. Earlier in the year, the commission had changed the sentencing guidelines for current offenders. The decision making the changes retroactive will go into effect March 3.

While as many as 20,000 crack prisoners could apply for sentence cuts, each one will have to go through a judicial process, and the cuts are not guaranteed. And only about 1,600 of them are eligible for sentence cuts that could result in their being released this year.

But that hasn't stopped Mukasey from playing up the fear angle. He was at it again Wednesday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. In testimony prepared for that hearing, Mukasey said, "Overall, the Sentencing Commission estimates that retroactive applications of these lower guidelines could lead to the re-sentencing of more than 20,000 crack cocaine offenders, any number of whom will be released early."

Congress needs to act to avert that threat, Mukasey said. But given that March 3 is less than a month away, given that Congress very rarely moves so swiftly, and given that Congress passed on the chance to kill the retroactivity provision last year, Mukasey seems unlikely to get his wish.

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Hearing: Reforming the 100-to-1 Crack/Powder Disparity

For over 21 years the inequity between crack and powder cocaine sentences has been the subject of great debate. Now the Senate will take a first step toward addressing this inequity. Three bills have been introduced in the Senate and will likely be the subject of debate at the hearing. The hearing is open to the public.
Date: 
Tue, 02/12/2008 - 2:00pm - 6:00pm
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Attend lobby day on Capitol Hill

[Courtesy of Families Against Mandatory Minimums] Please join Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and partner organizations on February 26 in Washington, D.C. as we call for change on Capitol Hill! Ask Congress to support legislation eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. In the 21 years that mandatory sentences for crack have been in effect, tens of thousands have suffered unjust, disproportionate, and excessive sentences because of the sentencing disparity. It's time for change. If your loved one was sentenced for crack cocaine or you served time in prison for a crack cocaine offense, we encourage your participation. Please attend the Cracked Justice Lobby Day on February 26 and share your story and photographs with lawmakers to show the human face of excessive sentencing. While none of the bills we will advocate for is likely to affect people who have already been sentenced, your advocacy could positively change the lives of tens of thousands in the future. To learn more about the legislation FAMM is following, please click here. The Cracked Justice Lobby Day will start in D.C. at 8:30 a.m. with breakfast and a brief training (location to be determined). You will learn tips on how to lobby members of Congress and receive information on the members of Congress you will visit that day. FAMM members have unique stories to tell and we believe everybody should hear them. You will not be limited to visiting your own members of Congress, but will also join people from other states and help them lobby their senators and representatives. For example, you may be paired with a preacher from Kansas or an advocate from Texas. We will visit lawmakers or staff from the following targeted states: California; Illinois; Kansas; Maryland; Michigan; New York; Oklahoma; Pennsylvania; South Carolina; Texas and Virginia. Don't worry if you are not from one of these states. We still want to see you here. If you or your family members live in the targeted states and would like to participate but cannot travel to D.C., we still need you! You can: - Participate in a National Call-In Day on February 25 (look for a FAMM ealert on February 25 with call-in information and talking points.) - Meet with your member of Congress or Congressional staff at a district office the week of February 18. Please rsvp for the lobby day by February 8. Space for the lobby day is very limited. If you are interested in participating or want more information on district visits, please call or email Jennifer Seltzer Stitt at (202) 822-6700 x15 or jstitt@famm.org. Sincerely yours, Jennifer Seltzer Stitt FAMM Federal legislative director
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: Advocates Urge Presidential Candidates to End DEA Raids by Executive Order

For Immediate Release: January 29, 2008 Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes (510) 681-6361 or ASA Director of Government Affairs Caren Woodson (510) 388-0546 Advocates Urge Presidential Candidates to End DEA Raids by Executive Order Nationwide campaign launched today to end federal enforcement against medical marijuana Washington, D.C. -- With only a week left until Super Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates launched a nationwide campaign today to urge presidential candidates to end federal raids in states with medical marijuana laws. The campaign urges candidates to issue an Executive Order upon taking office that would end federal interference in state-sanctioned medical marijuana laws. The proposed Executive Order would deny funds to the Department of Justice for federal enforcement efforts against patients and providers in states that have adopted medical marijuana laws. "To match the increased level of federal interference in states with medical marijuana laws, we're asking candidates to clearly state their opposition by pledging to issue an Executive Order, if elected." said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, the advocacy group that launched the campaign. "We're spending millions of dollars on law enforcement actions that harm our most vulnerable citizens," continued Woodson. "And, the President wields the power to stop it at any time." Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has stepped up its enforcement actions against medial marijuana patients and providers. While federal interference has occurred in multiple medical marijuana states, some have been hit harder than others. In California, the DEA has conducted more than 100 raids and threatened more than 300 landlords with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they continue to lease to medical marijuana dispensing collectives (dispensaries). In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently prosecuting more than 100 medical marijuana-related cases. The campaign focuses on candidates that have already made supportive statements on medical marijuana: Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, former Senator John Edwards, and Representative Ron Paul. These candidates are being asked to officiate their support by pledging to issue an Executive Order, which states that: "No funds made available to the Department of Justice shall be used to prevent States from implementing adopted laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. In particular, no funds shall be used to investigate, seize, arrest or prosecute in association with the distribution of medical marijuana, unless such distribution has been found by adjudication to violate state or local law." DEA actions have already garnered opposition from both local and federal lawmakers, including Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. In December, Mayor Dellums made a public statement condemning DEA tactics. The same month, Chairman Conyers publicly voiced his "deep concern" over DEA "efforts to undermine California state law," and he committed to sharply question these tactics in oversight hearings. Further information: ASA Executive Order Campaign Page: http://www.americansforsafeaccess.org/ExecutiveOrder Proposed Executive Order: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Proposed_Executive_Order.pdf Background Information on Increased DEA Actions: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/dea_escalation.pdf Video footage of Candidates' Position on Medical Marijuana: http://safeaccessnow.org/blog/?p=48 Statement by House Judiciary Chair John Conyers: http://judiciary.house.gov/newscenter.aspx?A=889 # # #
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana: Berkeley Declares Itself a Sanctuary City

The Berkeley City Council gave a collective raised middle finger to the DEA Tuesday night, unanimously approving a resolution declaring the city a sanctuary in the event the federal agency attempts to interfere with its medical marijuana dispensaries. Passage of the resolution was greeted with loud applause, according to the Daily Californian, the student newspaper at Cal Berkeley.

The resolution was opposed by the DEA, and softened last month to accommodate grumbling from Police Chief Douglas Hambleton and City Manager Phil Kamlarz, but it still puts the city on record as "opposing the attempts by the US Drug Enforcement Administration to close medical marijuana dispensaries, and declaring the City of Berkeley as a sanctuary for medicinal cannabis use, cultivation, and distribution that complies with State law and local ordinances in the event that" the DEA tried to raid one of the city's regulated dispensaries.

The resolution also reinforces a 2002 Berkeley policy directing police not to cooperate in federal medical marijuana investigations. City police were criticized last fall after arriving at the scene of a DEA action related to a raid on a Los Angeles dispensary. The resolution reemphasizes that the Berkeley police and the city attorney's office are not to cooperate with the DEA in "investigations of, raids upon, or threats against physicians, individual patients or their primary caregivers, and medical cannabis dispensaries and operators" operating within California law.

In addition, the resolution directs the city clerk to send letters to Alameda County, of which Berkeley is a part, to state Attorney General Jerry Brown, and to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging them to appropriately support medical marijuana.

The city of Berkeley has now committed itself to ensuring that its residents have access to medical marijuana, but it's not clear just yet exactly what that means. The resolution directs the police chief and the city manager to try to find ways to turn the resolution into reality. If the DEA shuts down Berkeley's dispensaries, will the city provide medical marijuana? Will it help new dispensaries set up? The answers are in the making.

Sentencing: US Attorney General Raises Specter of Violent Crime Jump If Crack Prisoners Released, Warns He Could Try to Block It

Twice in two days last week, US Attorney General Robert Mukasey lashed out at the US Sentencing Commission's December decision to apply cuts in federal crack sentences to prisoners currently behind bars, warning last Thursday that they could spark an increase in violent crime and suggesting the following day he may try to block the releases.

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an unfortunate choice by AG Mukasey
The Sentencing Commission decision brought a small measure of justice to some 19,500 federal prisoners, about 85% of whom are black, who were sentenced under harsh federal crack laws. Some 2,500 of them will be able to start applying for sentence reductions in March, a process that will undoubtedly drag out for months and not automatically result in reductions for everybody.

Still, speaking before the US Conference of Mayors last Thursday, Mukasey warned that some 1,600 convicted crack offenders, "many of them violent gang members," could be released as early as March. "Before we take that step, we need to think long and hard about whether that's the best way to go about this -- whether it best serves the interests of justice and public safety," Mukasey said. "A sudden influx of criminals from federal prison into your communities could lead to a surge in new victims with a tragic but predictable result."

Jurists and sentencing reform analysts contacted by the Los Angeles Times were quick to criticize Mukasey's remarks. "In the grand sweep of the nation's criminal justice system, the release of this minuscule number of prisoners will not affect crime rates. It will, however, significantly improve the perceived fairness of our federal criminal justice system," said Paul Cassell, a professor at the University of Utah law school and prominent conservative, noting that no prisoner would be released early unless a judge found he was not a threat to the community. "All of these prisoners were going to be released in the future," Cassell said, "so the retroactivity provision simply provides a slight acceleration of their release date."

Mukasey's numbers are misleading, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "About 700,000 people are coming out of prison this year, many of whom were convicted of a violent offense. So now the change means we'll have 701,600 instead. Seems like he's kind of missing the point," said Mauer.

Criticism notwithstanding, Mukasey was back at it again last Friday. In a press briefing, he said that the Justice Department may try to block the sentencing guideline reforms that will lead to the early releases. "We're going to try to do whatever we can to mitigate it," Mukasey said. "We would obviously like to see something done about something that we think was unwise in the first place." The department could suggest legislation to block it, he said, although he acknowledged it could be hard to pass in the Democratic Congress.

"Many of those [defendants eligible for release] were involved in violence, and can be expected to continue after they get out," Mukasey told reporters. He reiterated his comments from the previous day that he was concerned the early release prisoners might not have received job training and drug treatment. "None of that will have happened, or a lot of it will not have happened, by the time some of these folks get out," he said. "And that's a cause of anxiety."

Douglas Berman, professor of law at Ohio State University and publisher of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, speculated, "I suspect AG Mukasey is now being 'unusually outspoken' primarily to influence federal district judges as they consider motions for crack sentencing modifications. As the AG knows, no defendant will get a reduced sentence without judicial approval. During the post-Booker period, tough talk by DOJ has led judges to be particularly cautious about lenient sentences that might become 'tough-on-crime' political talking points. I suspect that the AG and main Justice hope that tough talk about going to Congress might make it easier for local federal prosecutors to oppose sentence reductions in individual cases."

Pain Wars in the Heartland: With Their Doctor Behind Bars, Kansas Patients Wonder Where To Turn

In a drama that has been played out all too many times across the country in recent years, the Justice Department's campaign against prescription drug abuse -- if you can call it that -- came in crushing fashion to Haysville, Kansas, last month. Now, a popular pain management physician and his nurse wife are being held without bond and more than a thousand patients at his clinic are without a doctor, but the US Attorney and the Kansas Board of Healing Arts say they are protecting the public health.

It all started December 20, when federal agents arrested Dr. Stephen Schneider, operator of the Schneider Medical Clinic, and his wife and business manager, Linda, on a 34-count indictment charging them with operating a "pill mill" at their clinic. The indictment charges that Schneider and his assistants "unlawfully" wrote prescriptions for narcotic pain relievers, that at least 56 of Schneiders' patients died of drug overdoses between 2002 and 2007, and that Schneider and his assistants prescribed pain relievers "outside the course of usual medical practice and not for legitimate medical purpose."

In their press release announcing the arrests, federal prosecutors also said that four patients died "as a direct result of Schneider's actions," but the indictment does not charge Schneider or anyone else with murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide. In all four deaths, the patients died of drug overdoses, with prosecutors claiming Schneider ignored signs they were becoming addicted to the drugs or abusing them.

A handful of Schneider's former patients have filed malpractice lawsuits, claiming they became addicted as a result of his treatments. The Kansas Board of Healing Arts was investigating several complaints against Schneider before it backed off at the beginning of 2007 at the request of federal prosecutors seeking to build their case. (The US Attorney's office in Wichita denies that it asked the board to desist, but the board insists that is in fact the case.)

Under pressure from state legislators, the board acted this week, suspending Schneider's license to practice and effectively shutting down his clinic, which had remained open with physicians' assistants writing prescriptions. That move came as a surprise to Schneider's patients and supporters, who had been engaged in negotiations with the board to keep the clinic open.

But if federal prosecutors, the state board and a few patients are painting Schneider as a Dr. Feelgood, for some of his patients, he was a life-send. Debbie Sauers was one of those patients. Suffering from the after-effects of a dissecting aortic aneurysm and chronic pain from four failed back surgeries, the former nurse said she now has nowhere to go. "The clinic is shut as of tomorrow, and today was the last day to get prescriptions filled," she said Wednesday. "Dr. Schneider was the only one who would treat me with pain medicine, and now I don't know what I'm going to do," she said.

Her efforts to find another doctor to take her on have been a stark exemplar of the stigmatization faced by pain patients whose physician is accused of being a pill-pusher. "I've had doctors' offices refuse to see me or laugh in my face or tell me to check into drug rehab when I tell them I was one of Dr. Schneider's patients," she said. "If you go to the ER, they hand you a list of drug rehab places. They put my doctor in jail, and no one will treat me now." Sauers is currently on massive doses of morphine and high-dose Lortab and says her cardiologist tells her a rapid withdrawal could kill her. "I don't know what to do," she repeated.

Darren Baker is another patient who swears by Dr. Schneider. The operator of a tree gardening service, Baker has bone spurs in his knees from years of climbing, and two years ago, he fell out of a tree, shattering both his heels. "They put all kinds of hardware in my heels, and I have to have pain medications just to walk," he said. "With the pain meds, I can't walk real well, but without them, I can't walk, period. Dr. Schneider was the only one who would treat me."

Now, like Sauers, Baker is in search of a doctor. "I haven't found one yet," he said. "I got a list today, but most of them are turning you away if you're associated with Dr. Schneider. If I can't get another doctor, I won't have any option except to retire and go on disability. I take my medicine to be a productive member of society," he said angrily. "I need my meds to survive and pay my bills and fight the daily grind. This really goes against our constitutional rights. How the hell can I pursue happiness lying in bed?"

If convicted, the Schneiders face a minimum of 20 years in federal prison, and given the multitude of counts, they could theoretically face centuries. While, since their arrests, they have been excoriated in the Kansas press and by politicians, they have also received strong support, not only from patients, but also from a national pain advocacy organization, the Pain Relief Network. Headed by Siobhan Reynolds, a former documentary film maker turned crusader after her life partner suffered horrendously from lack of adequate pain treatment before dying in 2006, the network has done highly effective advocacy on cases ranging from that of imprisoned Northern Virginia pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz to wheelchair-bound, formerly imprisoned, and now pardoned Florida pain patient Richard Paey.

Reynolds senses a similar injustice on the Kansas prairies. "Dr. Schneider is a wonderful doctor and he ran a wonderful clinic," she said. "But the Justice Department comes in here and after the fact characterizes his medical practice as drug dealing and also after the fact decides that a patient death is caused not by a doctor but by a 'drug dealer,' making it now tantamount to murder, with a 20-year mandatory minimum. If anyone wonders why doctors don't take care of sick people, this is why."

The root of the problem, said Reynolds, is the Controlled Substances Act, under which the Justice Department determines what constitutes proper medical practice and what doesn't. "Under the act, the exchange of money for drugs is presumptively illegal, and doctors have to show they are doing medicine in an 'authorized fashion' approved by the Justice Department. Under the act, doctors are effectively presumed guilty until proven innocent. It's backwards, and it helps explain why it is so difficult to win these cases," she said.

The Pain Relief Network will shortly bring a federal lawsuit challenging the Controlled Substance Act, Reynolds said. "The act is profoundly unconstitutional and unlawful. It reverses the presumption of innocence, and we think we can win that challenge, even if we have to go to the Supreme Court."

While the network had vowed to file the lawsuit last month, it hasn't happened yet. That's because the network has been too busy putting out fires in Kansas, she said, adding that the lawsuit will be filed soon.

Meanwhile, Dr. Schneider and his wife remain jailed without bond at the request of federal prosecutors pending a first court date later this month. His patients are now scrambling to find replacement doctors with little success, especially now that other local doctors see what could await them if they apply aggressive opioid pain management treatments. And a chill as cold as the February wind is settling in over pain treatment on the Kansas plains.

Perhaps Dr. Schneider is guilty of failing to adequately screen his patients, said Darren Baker, but that's not a crime. "Pain meds are narcotics," he said. "Some people have to have them to survive, but other people just want them. I think Dr. Schneider should have covered his ass more. A drug addict is going to get his drugs, whether through a doctor or on the street. They can buffalo a doctor. But when they abuse their prescriptions, how can it be the doctor's fault? Maybe he could have done things differently, but he operated in good faith."

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School