Federal Courts

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Charges in khat case dropped

Location: 
Seattle, WA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Seattle Times
URL: 
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003753377_khat19m.html

A New Suit By Farmers Against the DEA Illustrates Why The War on Drugs Should Not Include a War on Hemp

Location: 
ND
United States
Publication/Source: 
FindLaw (CA)
URL: 
http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20070619_colburn.html

Good Supreme Court Ruling on Traffic Stops

The Supreme Court actually issued a good ruling on traffic stops today, and it was unanimous. In BRENDLIN v. CALIFORNIA, Bruce Brendlin, who was convicted of drug possession after a car in which he was a passenger was pulled over by a sheriff's deputy in Yuba County, California, appealed his conviction based on the fact that the traffic stop was later conceded by the state to be illegal. The state argued that because Brendlin was not the driver of the car, he was not the subject of the illegal stop, and so did not have the right to have the evidence suppressed because of the stop's illegality. In the unanimous opinion written by David Souter, the Court found:
Brendlin was seized because no reasonable person in his position when the car was stopped would have believed himself free to "terminate the encounter" between the police and himself. Bostick, supra, at 436. Any reasonable passenger would have understood the officers to be exercising control to the point that no one in the car was free to depart without police permission.
Sad that the California Supreme Court bought the argument, though. Read more about the case here.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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

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.

https://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.

Alito Free Speech Comments -- a Hint on "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Case?

Drug WarRant spotted the following comments by Justice Alito, printed by the Washington Post, comments that suggest he might go the right way in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" free speech case:
"I'm a very strong believer in the First Amendment and the right of people to speak and to write," [...] "I would be reluctant to support restrictions on what people could say." [...] "it's very dangerous for the government to restrict speech."
View pictures from the March demonstration outside the Court here.
Location: 
Washingotn, DC
United States

Bush Seeks to Re-Impose Mandatory Minimums

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
CBS News
URL: 
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/13/politics/main2924206.shtml

Court to Weigh Disparities in Cocaine Laws

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/washington/12scotus.html

Crack Cocaine Sentencing Headed to Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the U.S. v. Kimbrough case, in which an eastern-Virginia US District Court judge, Raymond Jackson, sentenced a crack cocaine offender -- Derrick Kimbrough -- to a below-guidelines sentence, only to be overruled following an appeal by the government to the 4th Circuit. "Guidelines" here refers to the federal sentencing guidelines (similar to, but not to be confused with the mandatory minimums), in which certain very harsh sentences require only 1/100th the amount of crack cocaine to get triggered as is required of powder cocaine. The "government" here refers to federal prosecutors, who objected that Judge Jackson had based his view that the guidelines sentence for Kimbrough's offense was unreasonable (a requirement for downward departures in the post-Booker ruling federal sentencing world, at least for now) in part on his disagreement over the policy of the harsher sentences for crack offenders. The Court of Appeals in the 4th Circuit agreed, and Kimbrough's sentence was kicked back up to the much-criticized guidelines level. Also before the Court is the case of Victor Rita, another crack cocaine defendant. And the Court has promised to pick a case that deals with the same issue as the one that was at stake in the case of Mario Claiborne, who died earlier this year (info at same link). While there are far more whites who use crack cocaine than blacks, as the Associated Press reported today, "[m]ost crack cocaine offenders in federal courts are black." Why does the 4th Circuit Appeals Court see the intellectual path a judge took to get to a finding of unreasonableness as more important than the self-evidently unreasonable nature of the draconian sentences they are defending? Both Mr. Kimbrough and Judge Jackson are African American, by the way. They are also both veterans -- Kimbrough fought in the first Gulf War; Jackson has a decades-long military career that included a stint as a JAG and includes continuing service as a colonel in the Reserves. The 4th Circuit decision, which is only two paragraphs long, is not published online (or so I've read), but visit the post made about this case on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog and scroll down to the third comment to read it. Our topical archive on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is online here (though it only goes back to early fall -- you have to use the search engine for earlier stories). We also have a Federal Courts archive here Last but not least, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, click here to write to Congress in support of H.R. 460, Charlie Rangel's bill to reduce crack cocaine sentences to the same level as sentences for powder cocaine.
Location: 
United States

Feature: Ed Rosenthal Convicted Again in Pyrrhic Victory for Feds

A federal jury Wednesday found "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal guilty for a second time of growing hundreds of marijuana plants in what is no more than a symbolic victory for federal prosecutors. Because Rosenthal has already served a lenient one-day sentence after he was first convicted of the same charges in 2003, US District Court Judge Charles Breyer, the presiding judge in the case, has already ruled that he cannot be resentenced.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/edrosenthalcourtdate.jpg
Ed Rosenthal at courthouse, with supporters, September 2006 (courtesy indybay.org)
Rosenthal's original conviction was overturned on appeal. Vengeful federal prosecutors angered by his public criticism of their methods retried him knowing they could not further punish him. They even filed additional charges that Judge Breyer threw out as vindictive.

The trial itself was noteworthy for the mass refusal of medical marijuana movement people subpoenaed to testify for the government to do so. Equally noteworthy was their escaping without contempt citations -- at least so far.

Rosenthal grew the plants to produce medical marijuana for use in California, where it is legal, but his defense was unable to explain that to the jury because it was blocked from doing so by Judge Breyer. Federal law and the federal courts do not recognize "medical" marijuana. Neither was Breyer willing to let defense attorneys go too far in urging the jury to vote its conscience.

"There are places that we can't go... There are answers too realistic, reasonable questions you may have that I can't give you," defense attorney Robert Ampranan told the jurors during final arguments. "I fear my government because it does not always tell us the truth. The federal government has had almost six years to complete this recipe... and yet their recipe, ladies and gentlemen, contains tainted, soiled, spoiled ingredients," he said. "If it smells like something that's going to make you sick, you have the right to reject it."

Shortly later, as Amparan compared Rosenthal's prosecution to past injustices done under color of law, such as slavery and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Breyer sent the jury from the courtroom and accused Amparan of trying to lead the jury into questioning the federal law itself. When Amparan replied that he wasn't, but that he intended to cite the false pretenses for the war in Iraq and the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina as other examples of government mistakes, the packed courtroom burst into cheers. Breyer warned that he would clear the courtroom if any more outbursts occurred, then ordered Amparan not to make that argument to the jury.

After deliberating for two days, the jury convicted Rosenthal of growing more than 100 marijuana plants, conspiring to cultivate the drug and maintaining a growing operation in a warehouse. He was acquitted of a fourth charge, and Breyer sternly ordered prosecutors to drop the fifth charge when the jury said it was deadlocked.

"It's a shame that the federal government continues to put California citizens in the position of having to set aside their own votes at the ballot box and pretend they don't know anything about the state law or medical science," said William Dolphin, a spokesman for the Rosenthal defense fund Green Aid. "After 60% of the jury pool just refused to be involved in a case like this, we ended up with a jury that felt like it had to follow the instructions of the court."

"The government has shown it can in fact win a conviction in a medical marijuana case in the most pot-sympathetic district in the country," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "Of course, when we have to play by their rules and can't even mention the main element of the defense, it's an open and shut case. Ed was clearly growing pot, as was shown by the government."

If the verdict was somewhat anticlimactic, there was high drama and civil disobedience in court last Friday. That's when six medical marijuana movement witnesses subpoenaed by the government to testify against Rosenthal simply refused. Five others who were prepared to join them were dismissed on technical grounds.

One by one, recalcitrant witnesses Debbie Goldsberry, James Blair, Etienne Fontan, Evan Schwartz, Brian Lundeen, and Cory Okie told the court they would not participate in an immoral prosecution. (Read the transcript here.) "I told them I could not participate and go against the wishes of the community," said Goldsberry.

Judge Breyer praised the six for their dignified conduct and asked them if being sent to jail for the weekend would make them change their minds about testifying. When they replied in the negative, he sent them home for the weekend. They reappeared on Tuesday, reiterated their refusal to testify, and Breyer simply excused them.

The successful act of civil disobedience merits attention, said California NORML's Gieringer. "It's important that this gets some attention because it is one of the few actions where people have had the courage to risk going to jail for refusing to testify for the government," said Gieringer. "The prosecutor can file contempt charges if he wants, but I think the judge would be pretty unhappy. Rosenthal isn't going to jail in any case, so to have someone go to jail would be a real travesty."

"The community is getting fed up," said Green Aid's Dolphin. "The jury pool was not happy, the judge was not happy, and a dozen people subpoenaed to testify just said 'I'm not going to do it, and you can't make me.'"

The federal government prevailed by winning several convictions against Rosenthal, but the victory may be a pyrrhic one. The Justice Department and local federal prosecutors have managed to irritate just about everybody in Northern California, from the presiding judge on down. And the continuing persecution of Rosenthal and other medical marijuana providers has only strengthened the community and emboldened it to try new, provocative tactics.

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