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Canada: Marc Emery to Accept Canadian Prison Time on US Charges

Marc Emery, Canada's most well-known marijuana activist, has reached a tentative plea bargain agreement with US federal prosecutors who charged him and two associates as drug dealers for selling marijuana seeds to customers in the US. Emery, Michelle Rainey, and Greg Williams had all faced a minimum 10-year sentence and the possibility of life if convicted in the US. Under the deal reached, Emery said, he will serve a minimum of five years behind bars, mostly in Canada.

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Marc and Jodie Emery (from cannabisculture.com)
Emery said the deal was contingent on the dropping of charges against Rainey and Williams.

Assistant US Attorney Todd Greenberg in Seattle, where Emery was indicted in 2005, has so far declined to comment on the plea agreement. An extradition hearing is still set for Monday in Vancouver, he noted.

Selling marijuana seeds is illegal under Canadian law, but seed shops flourish, and the last conviction was against Emery in 1998. He was fined $2,000. Since then, he ran a well-publicized seed business, paying more than $600,000 in Canadian income taxes on his business until he was shut down when arrested by Canadian authorities at the behest of the US in 2005.

A flamboyant character who founded the BC Marijuana Party, Emery ran for elective office on numerous occasions, published Cannabis Culture magazine, and had his own Internet TV network, Pot TV. An avid critic of marijuana prohibition who thumbed his nose at US authorities, Emery was ultimately too juicy a target for American drug warriors to resist.

Indeed, after his arrest in 2005, then DEA administrator Karen Tandy gloated about it -- and helped Emery make his case that his bust was politically motivated. "Today's DEA arrest of Marc Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine, and the founder of a marijuana legalization group -- is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the US and Canada, but also the marijuana legalization movement," she said in a statement that caused consternation in the Seattle federal criminal justice establishment.

"Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery's illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on."

Despite Tandy's loose-lipped remarks, Greenberg told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week that it was merely another criminal investigation. "His politics and the marijuana legalization movement in general have nothing to do with the charges in this case or with why the charges were brought," Greenberg said.

The apparent plea deal has sparked a considerable amount of angst in the Canadian press, with various columnists and editorialists chiding the Canadian government for not fighting to block Emery's extradition, not changing the country's marijuana seed selling laws to fit the reality of non-enforcement (or vice versa), and allowing the Americans to do their dirty work for them in getting rid of an irritating gadfly.

While the plea deal is not yet official, one thing is certain: We have not heard the last of Marc Emery.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice," by Ethan Brown (2007, Public Affairs Press, 273 pp., $25.95 HB)

When a Baltimore hustler clothing line manufacturer and barber named Rodney Bethea released a straight-to-DVD documentary about life on the mean streets of West Baltimore back in 2004 in a bid to further the hip-hop careers of some of his street-savvy friends, he had no idea "Stop Fucking Snitching, Vol. I" (better known simply as "Stop Snitching") would soon become a touchstone in a festering conflict over drugs and crime on the streets of America and what to do about it.

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In a steadily rising crescendo of concern that reached a peak earlier this year when CBS' 60 Minutes ran a segment on the stop snitching phenomenon, police, politicians and prosecutors from across the country, but especially the big cities of the East Coast, lamented the rise of the stop snitching movement. Describing it as nothing more than witness intimidation by thugs out to break the law and get away with it, they charged that "stop snitching" was perverting the American justice system.

Not surprisingly, the view was a little different from the streets. Thanks largely to the war on drugs and the repressive legal apparatus ginned up to prosecute it, the traditional mistrust of police and the criminal justice system by poor, often minority, citizens has sharpened into a combination of disdain, despair, and defiance that identifies snitching -- or "informing" or "cooperating," if one wishes to be more diplomatic -- as a means of perpetuating an unjust system on the backs of one's friends and neighbors.

At least that's the argument Ethan Brown makes rather convincingly in "Snitch." According to Brown, the roots of the stop snitching movement can be traced directly to the draconian drug war legislation of the mid-1980s, when the introduction of mandatory minimums and harsh federal sentencing guidelines -- five grams of crack can get you five years in federal prison -- led to a massive increase in the federal prison population and a desperate scramble among low-level offenders to do anything to avoid years, if not decades, behind bars.

The result, Brown writes, has been a "cottage industry of cooperators" who will say whatever they think prosecutors want to hear and repeat their lies on the witness stand in order to win a "5K" motion from prosecutors, meaning they have offered "substantial assistance" to the government and are eligible for a downward departure from their guidelines sentence. Such practices are perverse when properly operated -- they encourage people to roll over on anyone they can to avoid prison time -- but approach the downright criminal when abused.

And, as Brown shows in chapter after chapter of detailed examples, abuse of the system appears almost the norm. In one case Brown details, a violent cooperator ended up murdering a well-loved Richmond, Virginia, family. In another, the still unsolved death of Baltimore federal prosecutor Richard Luna, the FBI seems determined to obscure the relationship between Luna and another violent cooperator. In still another unsolved murder, that of rapper Tupac Shakur, Brown details the apparent use of snitches to frame a man authorities suspect knows more about the killing than he is saying. In perhaps the saddest chapter, he tells the story of Euka Washington, a poor Chicago man now doing life in prison as a major Iowa crack dealer. He was convicted solely on the basis of uncorroborated and almost certainly false testimony from cooperators.

The system is rotten and engenders antipathy toward the law, Brown writes. The ultimate solution, he says, is to change the federal drug and sentencing laws, but he notes how difficult that can be, especially when Democrats are perpetually fearful of being Willy Hortoned every time they propose a reform. The current glacial progress of bills that would address one of the most egregious drug war injustices, the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, is a sad case in point.

Brown addresses the quickness with which police and politicians blamed the stop snitching movement for increases in crime, but calls that a "distraction from law enforcement failures." It's much easier for cops and politicians to blame the streets than to take the heat for failing to prosecute cases and protect witnesses, and it's more convenient to blame the street than to notice rising income equality and a declining economy.

While Brown doesn't appear to want to throw the drug war baby out with the snitching bathwater, he does make a few useful suggestions for beginning to change the way the drug war is prosecuted. Instead of blindly going after dealers by weight, he argues, following UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, target those who engage in truly harmful behavior. That will not only make communities safer by ridding them of violent offenders, it will reduce the pressure to cooperate by low-level offenders as police attention and resources shift away from them.

Cooperating witnesses also need greater scrutiny, limits need to be put on 5K motions, cooperator testimony must be corroborated, and perjuring cooperators should be prosecuted, Brown adds. Too bad he doesn't have much to say about what to do with police and prosecutors who knowingly rely on dishonest snitches.

"It was never meant to intimidate people from calling the cops," Rodney Bethea said of his DVD, "and it was never directed at civilians. If your grandmother calls the cops on people who are dealing drugs on her block, she's supposed to do that because she's not living that lifestyle. When people say 'stop snitching' on the DVD, they're referring to criminals who lead a criminal life who make a profit from criminal activities... What we're saying is you have to take responsibility for your actions. When it comes time for you to pay, don't not want to pay because that is part of what you knew you were getting into in the first place. Stop Snitching is about taking it back to old-school street values, old-school street rules."

Playing by the old-school rules would be a good thing for street hustlers. It would also be a good thing for the federal law enforcement apparatus. It's an open question which group is going to get honorable first.

Law Enforcement: Snitch in Deadly Atlanta Raid Case Sues

A man who made a career out of snitching on his neighbors for profit is suing the Atlanta Police Department and the city, claiming he lost his job after the November 2006 drug raid that left 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston dead. The professional informant, Alex White, claims police held him for hours against his will, hoping he would help them cover up their misdeeds in the fatal raid.

Atlanta narcotics officers told a judge a confidential informant had told them cocaine was being sold and stored at Johnston's residence, but no such informant existed. They went to White after the fact to try to cook up support for their fable.

A frightened White instead went to the FBI and spent seven months in protective custody while working with federal prosecutors building a case against the three officers involved. All three officers were charged in the case. Two have pleaded guilty to state manslaughter and federal civil rights charges and are set to report to prison this month. A third awaits trial.

White, 25, had made up to $30,000 a year snitching on drug offenders, his attorney, Fenn Little, Jr. told the Associated Press. He is seeking compensation for lost wages as well as punitive damages. White's life has been "essentially ruined" because of the case, and he will now have to find a new line of work, Fenn added.

Medical Marijuana: DEA Threatens San Francisco Dispensary Landlords, Dispensaries Sue, Conyers to Hold Hearings

In a reprise of a tactic first used against Los Angeles and Sacramento area dispensaries, the DEA this week sent letters to dozens of owners of buildings leased to San Francisco dispensaries warning them that their buildings could be seized. Dispensary operators responded by filing suit in federal court to stop the agency, and a high-ranking congressman has promised to hold hearings on the matter.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and currently, hundreds of dispensaries are operating in the state to provide marijuana to patients qualified under the state's admittedly loose law. DEA raids and federal prosecution have failed to blunt their growth, and the landlord letters are only the latest wrinkle in the agency's war on the will of California voters.

"By this notice, you have been made aware of the purposes for which the property is being used," said a copy of the letter sent to San Francisco landlords, signed by the special agent in charge of the DEA's San Francisco office, Javier Pena. "You are further advised that violations of federal laws relating to marijuana may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets."

The letter gave no deadlines.

San Francisco once had as many as 40 dispensaries, although only 28 have applied for licenses under a city regulatory process that began in July. But dispensaries may also be linked to other buildings where medical marijuana grows or storage take place.

"The feds do as they please... (and) they've done it before," San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding he would not be surprised at a crackdown. "I would only hope they would coordinate with local law enforcement and that they are aware of the new regulatory system we have in place, and are sensitive to it."

Dispensary operators, however, were not quite so sanguine. A previously little known industry grouping, the Union of Medical Marijuana Providers, last week joined the Los Angeles area Arts District Healing Center in filing a federal lawsuit charging the DEA with extorting landlords. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to bar the DEA from sending any more threatening letters.

Dispensary operators and their supporters are also looking forward to hearings on the issue in the House Judiciary Committee. In response to complaints from California, last Friday, committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced he would hold hearings on the issue.

"I am deeply concerned about recent reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration is threatening private landlords with asset forfeiture and possible imprisonment if they refuse to evict organizations legally dispensing medical marijuana to suffering patients," Conyers said in a statement. "The committee has already questioned the DEA about its efforts to undermine California state law on this subject, and we intend to sharply question this specific tactic as part of our oversight efforts."

"When I saw Representative Conyers statement regarding the DEA's abuse of their power in order to thwart California's law, I knew that our legal efforts were beginning to pay off," said James Shaw, executive director of the Union. "The DEA has alienated too many citizens with their heavy-handed 'above the law tactics' for too long. We welcome all the support we can find in our efforts to ensure our rights are protected."

Steven Schectman, the Union's chief counsel, said he has contacted Representative Conyers' office in order to provide his staff copies of the litigation that was filed in both state and federal Court. "I am hopeful we can support the Judiciary Committee in any way possible. As a result of our research and investigation of the DEA's threatening letter campaign, in preparation of our litigation, we have become the most knowledgeable group, outside the DEA, who best understands the scope and import of their tactics. We are here to help."

Feature: Pressure Mounts on Congress As Supreme Court, Sentencing Commission Both Act to Cut Crack Cocaine Sentences

Both the US Supreme Court and the US Sentencing Commission acted this week to redress inequities in the sentencing of federal crack cocaine defendants, but changes in sentencing will be only marginal unless Congress acts to amend or undo the minimum sentences it has mandated for crack. Several bills to do so are pending, but Congress has yet to act on them.

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Karen Garrison, with picture of sons Lawrence & Lamont, innocent students convicted for crack and powder cocaine conspiracy (picture from sentencingproject.org)
Still, the harsh crack cocaine sentencing policies that have been in place for more than two decades took a one-two punch this week. On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a sentencing decision by a federal district court judge to sentence a crack defendant to a sentence well below the federal sentencing guidelines. The following day, the Sentencing Commission announced that its earlier decision to scale down crack sentences would apply to nearly 20,000 federal inmates doing time on crack charges.

In the Supreme Court, the justices voted 7-2 to allow federal judges discretion to sentence offenders to prison terms well below the punishment range set by federal sentencing guidelines. The ruling came in a pair of cases, Kimbrough v. US and Gall v. US. The decisions offer important guidance to federal judges who have been wrestling with sentencing issues since the Supreme Court in 2005 held that federal sentencing guidelines were no longer mandatory, but only advisory.

In the first case, the trial judge sentenced convicted crack dealer Derrick Kimbrough to 10 years for his drug offense even though the guidelines called for a 14-to-17 1/2 year sentence. That judge called the guidelines "ridiculous" and "clearly inappropriate" when applied to Kimbrough. A federal appeals court in Richmond vacated the sentence, declaring that a sentence so far beneath the guidelines was unreasonable. But the Supreme Court disagreed.

"The district court properly homed in on the particular circumstances of Kimbrough's case and accorded weight to the Sentencing Commission's consistent and emphatic position that the crack/powder disparity is at odds with [the federal sentencing law]," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the majority.

In her opinion in Kimbrough, Justice Ginsburg noted the ongoing controversy over the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity -- it takes 100 times as much powder cocaine as crack cocaine to trigger mandatory minimum sentences -- and wrote that judges could keep that in mind when sentencing crack defendants. "Given all this," she wrote, "it would not be an abuse of discretion for a district court to conclude when sentencing a particular defendant that the crack/powder disparity yields a sentence greater than necessary."

In the second case, Brian Gall had been sentenced to probation for his role in an ecstasy distribution ring while he was a college student. The judge in the case cited Gall's brief participation in the scheme and his law-abiding life since then in departing from the sentencing guidelines, which called for three years in prison. That sentence was vacated by a federal appeals court in St. Louis, which held that Gall's punishment was unreasonably light. The sentencing judge must show extraordinary circumstances to justify such a sentence, the appeals court held. That's not necessary, the Supreme Court held.

"An appellate court may take the degree of variance into account and consider the extent of deviation from the guidelines, but it may not require 'extraordinary' circumstances or employ a rigid mathematical formula," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority.

The appeals court "failed to give due deference to the district court's reasoned and reasonable sentencing decision," Stevens wrote.

Taken together, the two Monday decision create a new, tougher standard for appeals courts to overturn judges' sentencing decisions. Now, the appeals court must find that a particular sentence is unreasonable and that the judge abused his or her discretion in evaluating the factors that led to that sentence.

"The cases are the clearest and strongest rulings to date that federal trial judges can exercise their discretion to take their sentencing responsibilities seriously again," said Carmen Hernandez, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers (NACDL). "There is no doubt left that an inappropriate guidelines calculation is open to challenge -- individually, as imposed in a particular case, and categorically, where the Commission has not followed Congress' command that a sentence be 'sufficient, but not greater than necessary.'"

"At a time of heightened public awareness regarding excessive penalties and disparate treatment within the justice system, today's ruling affirming judges' sentencing discretion is critical," said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project. "Harsh mandatory sentences, particularly those for offenses involving crack cocaine, have created unjust racial disparity and excessive punishment for low-level offenses."

"This decision makes it clear that federal judges have a right to vote their conscience and ignore sentencing guidelines that are racist, unfair or cruel," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The ruling will reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and hopefully send a message to federal prosecutors that they should stop wasting resources on nonviolent, low-level crack cocaine offenders and focus on taking down organized crime syndicates instead."

On Tuesday, it was the Sentencing Commission's turn to take a whack at crack sentences. In November, the commission amended the crack sentencing guidelines to reduce average sentences from 10 years and one month to eight years and 10 months, but a key question for activists, reformers, and prisoners and their families was whether the change in the guidelines would be retroactive. On Tuesday, the commission announced they would be.

"Retroactivity of the crack cocaine amendment will become effective on March 3, 2008," the commission said. "Not every crack cocaine offender will be eligible for a lower sentence under the decision. A federal sentencing judge will make the final determination of whether an offender is eligible for a lower sentence and how much that sentence should be lowered. That determination will be made only after consideration of many factors, including the Commission's direction to consider whether lowering the offender's sentence would pose a danger to public safety. In addition, the overall impact is anticipated to occur incrementally over approximately 30 years, due to the limited nature of the guideline amendment and the fact that many crack cocaine offenders will still be required under federal law to serve mandatory five- or ten-year sentences because of the amount of crack involved in their offense."

"At its core, this question is one of fairness," said one commission member, Judge William K. Sessions III of the United States District Court in Vermont. "This is an historic day. This system of justice is, and must always be, colorblind."

With retroactivity, some 19,500 currently imprisoned crack offenders will be able to apply for sentence reductions. According to the commission, eligible prisoners can expect an average sentence reduction of 17%, and some 3,800 prisoners will be eligible for but not assured of release by the end of 2008. But, the commission emphasized, reductions will ultimately be up to sentencing judges, who will have wide discretion in deciding who will be granted leniency.

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he was pleased with the commission's action. "Nearly 20,000 nonviolent, low-level drug offenders will be eligible for a reduction in the excessive prison terms they received in the past because of the unacceptable disparity in the sentencing guidelines between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses," Kennedy said. "Those who break the law deserve to be punished, but our system says that punishment must be proportionate and fair. The current sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is neither."

"The Sentencing Commission made the tough but fair decision to remedy injustice, showing courage and leadership in applying the guideline retroactively. Clearly, justice should not turn on the date an individual is sentenced," said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "Retroactivity of the crack guideline not only affects the lives of nearly 20,000 individuals in prison but that of thousands more -- mothers, fathers, daughters and sons -- who anxiously wait for them to return home," said Stewart.

But while both the Supreme Court and the Sentencing Commission have acted to reduce the harsh and disparate sentences meted out to crack offenders, congressionally-imposed mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses mean that these actions will only have a marginal impact on the length of sentences and the federal prison population. Only Congress can adjust those mandatory minimum sentences.

As one commission member, Judge Ruben Castillo of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, noted, the commission has recommended since 1995 that Congress act to redress the sentencing disparity. "No one has come before us to justify the 100-to-1 ratio," Judge Castillo said, referring to the provision of federal law that imposes the same 10-year minimum sentence for possessing 50 grams of crack and for possessing 5,000 grams of powder cocaine.

Four bills have been introduced in Congress to reduce the crack/powder cocaine disparity -- two by Democrats and two by Republicans. Two of the bills, introduced by Republican Senators Jeff Sessions from Alabama and Orrin Hatch from Utah, reduce the disparity but do not eliminate it. The third bill, introduced by Democratic Senator Joe Biden from Delaware, would completely eliminate the disparity. The Senate is expected to have hearings on the legislation in February. Democratic Representative Charles Rangel from New York has introduced the only bill on the House side that would eliminate the disparity by equalizing the sentences for crack and powder cocaine at the current level of powder. The Senate is set to have hearings on the issue early next year. No hearings have been scheduled in the House, and supporters of eliminating the disparity say House Democrats are ignoring the issue.

"The biggest obstacle to eliminating the racist crack/powder disparity is not the Bush Administration or law enforcement, it's the House Democratic leadership," said Piper, who noted that House Democratic leaders had reportedly barred committees from dealing with the issue. "While the Supreme Court, the Sentencing Commission and Senate Democrats and Republicans push forward with reform, House Democrats won't even have hearings on the issue. Their silence on this issue is sending a signal to communities across the country that they don't care about reducing racial disparities."

Press Release: North Dakota’s Licensed Hemp Farmers Appeal Federal Court Decision

[Courtesy of Vote Hemp] FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 12, 2007 CONTACT: Adam Eidinger: 202-744-2671, adam@votehemp.com or Tom Murphy 207-542-4998, tom@votehemp.com North Dakota’s Licensed Hemp Farmers Appeal Federal Court Decision BISMARCK, ND – Two North Dakota farmers, who filed a federal lawsuit in June to end the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) ban on commercial hemp farming in the United States and had their case dismissed on November 28, have filed a notice of appeal today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Lawyers working on behalf of the farmers, Representative David Monson and Wayne Hauge, are appealing a number of issues. In particular, the lower court inexplicably ruled that hemp and marijuana are the “same,” as the DEA has contended, and thus failed to properly consider the Commerce Clause argument that the plaintiffs raised — that Congress cannot interfere with North Dakota’s state-regulated hemp program. Scientific evidence clearly shows that industrial hemp, which includes the oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis that would have been grown pursuant to North Dakota law, is genetically distinct from the drug varieties of Cannabis and has absolutely no recreational drug effect. Even though the farmers' legal battle continues, the lawsuit prompted the DEA to respond to the North Dakota State University (NDSU) application for federal permission to grow industrial hemp for research purposes, which has languished for nearly a decade. University officials, however, say it could cost them more than $50,000 to install 10-foot-high fences and meet other strict DEA requirements such as high-powered lighting. NDSU officials are reviewing the DEA’s proposal, and Vote Hemp is hopeful that an agreement can be reached before planting season gets under way. If an agreement between the DEA and NDSU is reached and ultimately signed, it would pave the way for agricultural hemp research and development in North Dakota. Such research is key to developing varieties of industrial hemp best suited for North Dakota’s climate. “We are happy this lawsuit is moving forward with an appeal,” says Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp, a non-profit organization working to bring industrial hemp farming back to the U.S. “We feel that the lower court’s decision not only overlooks Congress’s original legislative intent, but also fails to stand up for fundamental states’ rights against overreaching federal regulation. Canada grows over 30,000 acres of industrial hemp annually without any law enforcement problems. In our federalist society, it is not the burden of North Dakota’s citizens to ask Congress in Washington, D.C. to clear up its contradictory and confusing regulations concerning Cannabis; it is their right to grow industrial hemp pursuant to their own state law and the United States Constitution,” adds Steenstra. Vote Hemp, the nation's leading industrial hemp advocacy group, and its supporters are providing financial support for the lawsuit. If it is ultimately successful, states across the nation will be free to implement their own hemp farming laws without fear of federal interference. More on the case can be found at: http://www.VoteHemp.com/legal_cases_ND.html.
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Bismarck, ND
United States

Crack Sentencing Changes Made Retroactive!

[Ed: Good to see the vote was unanimous -- someone tell Hillary Clinton. I heard the executive director of the Sentencing Commission speak at a conference last spring, and she was very passionate about wanting to see good things happen. It looks like the commissioners felt the same way. I've pasted here a few releases and announcements from various groups about this below. - Dave] News Release U.S. Sentencing Commission One Columbus Circle NE Washington, DC 20002-8002 For Immediate Release December 11, 2007 U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION VOTES UNANIMOUSLY TO APPLY AMENDMENT RETROACTIVELY FOR CRACK COCAINE OFFENSES Effective Date for Retroactivity Set for March 3, 2008 WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 11, 2007) — The United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted today to give retroactive effect to a recent amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that reduces penalties for crack cocaine offenses. Retroactivity of the crack cocaine amendment will become effective on March 3, 2008. Not every crack cocaine offender will be eligible for a lower sentence under the decision. A Federal sentencing judge will make the final determination of whether an offender is eligible for a lower sentence and how much that sentence should be lowered. That determination will be made only after consideration of many factors, including the Commission’s direction to consider whether lowering the offender’s sentence would pose a danger to public safety. In addition, the overall impact is anticipated to occur incrementally over approximately 30 years, due to the limited nature of the guideline amendment and the fact that many crack cocaine offenders will still be required under Federal law to serve mandatory five- or ten-year sentences because of the amount of crack involved in their offense. On November 1, 2007, after a six-month congressional review period, the Commission’s amendment to the Federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses took effect. The amendment was intended as a step toward reducing some of the unwarranted disparity currently existing between Federal crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 specifically authorized the Commission to provide for retroactive effect of amendments that result in lower penalties for classes of offenses or offenders, as this amendment could. The Commission made its decision on retroactivity of the crack cocaine amendment after months of deliberation and years of examining cocaine sentencing issues. It solicited public comment on the issue of retroactivity and received over 33,000 letters or written comments, almost all of which were in favor of retroactivity. Last month, it held a full-day hearing on the issue of retroactivity and heard from key stakeholders in the federal criminal justice community. The Commission considered a number of factors during its deliberations, including the purpose for lowering crack cocaine sentences, the limit on any reduction allowed by the amendment, whether it would be difficult for the courts to apply the reduction, and whether making the amendment retroactive would raise public safety concerns or cause unwarranted sentencing disparity in the federal system. Ultimately, the Commission determined that the statutory purposes of sentencing are best served by retroactive application of the amendment. Mindful of public safety and judicial resource concerns, the Commission today issued direction to the courts on the limited nature of this and all other retroactive amendments and on the need to consider public safety in each case. The Commission delayed the effective date of its decision on retroactivity in order to give the courts sufficient time to prepare for and process these cases. The Commission’s actions today, as well as promulgation of the original amendment for crack cocaine offenses, are only a partial step in mitigating the unwarranted sentencing disparity that exists between Federal powder and crack cocaine defendants. The Commission has continued to call on Congress to address the issue of the 100-to-1 statutory ratio that drives Federal cocaine sentencing policy. Only Congress can provide a comprehensive solution to a fundamental unfairness in Federal sentencing policy. The Commission has consistently expressed its readiness and willingness to work with Congress and others in the criminal justice community to address this very important issue. The bipartisan United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines help to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences. http://www.ussc.gov/PRESS/rel121107.htm For Immediate Release Date: December 11, 2007 Sentencing Commission votes in favor of crack cocaine retroactivity WASHINGTON, D.C.: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the nation's leading sentencing reform organization with 13,000 members -- many of whom are incarcerated people and their families -- praises the U.S. Sentencing Commission for its courage and leadership on improving crack cocaine sentencing policies for future defendants and current prisoners. Today in an historic vote, the Commission agreed to allow prisoners serving crack cocaine sentences to seek sentence reductions that went into effect on November 1. Retroactivity will affect 19,500 federal prisoners, almost 2,520 of whom could be eligible for early release in the first year. Federal courts will administer the application of the retroactive guideline, which is not automatic. Courts may refuse to grant sentence reductions to individuals if they believe they could pose a public safety risk. "The Sentencing Commission made the tough but fair decision to remedy injustice, showing courage and leadership in applying the guideline retroactively. Clearly, justice should not turn on the date an individual is sentenced,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM. "Retroactivity of the crack guideline not only affects the lives of nearly 20,000 individuals in prison but that of thousands more - mothers, fathers, daughters and sons - who anxiously wait for them to return home," said Stewart. Many FAMM members, including Lamont and Lawrence Garrison, will benefit from retroactivity. Arrested just months after graduating from Howard University, Lamont received 19 years and Lawrence received 15 years, respectively, after being accused of conspiring to distribute crack and powder cocaine. Both brothers could receive sentence reductions of between three and four years. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has repeatedly advised Congress since 1995 that there is no rational, scientific basis for the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences. The Commission has also identified the resulting disparity as the "single most important" factor in longer sentences for blacks compared to other racial groups. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that judges can consider the unfairness of the 100-to-1 ratio between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences and may impose a sentence below the crack guideline in cases where the guideline sentence is too severe. However, neither the new guideline nor its retroactivity changes the statutory mandatory minimums that retain the 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine. "To insure equal justice for all defendants, Congress must act to address the mandatory minimums that created the cocaine sentencing disparity in 1986," said Stewart. FAMM spearheaded the effort to make the crack cocaine guideline change apply to people already in prison, helping generate over 33,000 letters to the Sentencing Commission in support of retroactivity. FAMM members from across the country also attended the Commission's public hearing on retroactivity in Washington, D.C. on November 13 and the vote on December 11, bearing photographs of their incarcerated loved ones. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) advocates for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. For more information, visit www.famm.org or email media@famm.org. UNITED STATES SENTENCING COMMISSION APPROVES CRACK REFORM FOR FEDERAL PRISONERS The day after the Supreme Court affirmed a judge's decision to sentence below the guideline range based on the unfairness of the crack cocaine sentencing disparity, the United States Sentencing Commission today voted unanimously to make retroactive its recent guideline amendment on crack cocaine offenses. The USSC's decision now makes an estimated 19,500 persons in prison eligible for a sentence reduction averaging more than two years. Releases are subject to judicial review and will be staggered over 30 years. The Sentencing Project applauds the USSC for responding at this heightened time of public awareness about excessive penalties and disparate treatment within the justice system. "The Commission's decision marks an important moment not only for the 19,500 people retroactivity will impact, but for the justice system as a whole," stated Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. "Today's action, combined with the Court's decision yesterday, restores a measure of rationality to federal sentencing while also addressing the unconscionable racial disparities that the war on drugs has produced." The Sentencing Project estimates that once the sentencing change is fully implemented, there will be a reduction of up to $1 billion in prison costs. Because African Americans comprise more than 80% of those incarcerated for crack cocaine offenses, the sentencing reform will also help reduce racial disparity in federal prisons. The Commission sets the advisory guideline range that federal judges use when sentencing defendants. In May the Commission recommended statutory reforms and proposed to Congress an amendment to decrease the guideline offense level for crack cocaine offenses. The amendment went unchallenged by Congress and went into effect on November 1st. The Commission's action today makes that guideline change retroactive to persons sentenced prior to November 1st. The guideline changes do not affect the mandatory minimum penalties that apply to crack cocaine, which can only be addressed through Congressional action. "Justice demands that Congress take the next step and eliminate the harsh mandatory minimums for low-level crack cocaine offenses," said Mauer. The Commission's vote comes a day after the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Kimbrough v. United States that a federal district judge's below-guideline sentencing decision based on the unfairness of the 100 to 1 quantity disparity between powder and crack cocaine was permissible. In June, Sen. Joseph Biden introduced the Drug Sentencing Reform and Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, legislation which would equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. Biden's bill, S. 1711, aims to shift federal law enforcement's focus from street-level dealers towards high-level traffickers.
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United States

Press Release: Day After Lawsuit Filed Against DEA, U.S. Congress Decides To Question Agency

[Courtesy of Union of Medical Marijuana Providers] One day after the Union of Medical Marijuana Providers filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, Central District of California (case CV07-07951) challenging the DEA's tactic of sending threatening letters to hundreds of owners of Commercial Property who rent to Marijuana Providers, the House Judiciary Committee will question the agency about the practice. Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) December 10, 2007 -- The DEA, who has declared war on California's Medical Marijuana Law, began the draconian tactic of sending letters to Commercial Property owners who rent to legally authorized Medical Marijuana Providers this summer. In the letter, the DEA informed the owners of these properties that if they continue to rent to dispensaries they may face federal prosecution which could result in a possible prison sentence for up to 20 years as well as seizure of their property. The Union of Medical Marijuana Providers which was formed in part, as a direct result of the DEA's letter writing campaign, as well as L.A.'s Arts District Healing Center, have been aggressively litigating this issue in both state and federal court for the past several months (state case in Los Angeles Superior Court, case 07K21837). Just yesterday, December 6, 2007 they filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Central District, which requested that the Court issue an injunction stopping the DEA from continuing to send these letters. "When I saw Representative Conyers statement regarding the DEA's abuse of their power in order to thwart California's law, I knew that our legal efforts were beginning to pay off," said James Shaw, Executive Director of the Union. "The DEA has alienated too many citizens with their heavy-handed 'above the law tactics' for too long. We welcome all the support we can find in our efforts to ensure our rights are protected." Steven Schectman, the Union's chief counsel said he has contacted Representative Conyers office today in order to provide his staff copies of the litigation that was filed in both state and Federal Court. "I am hopeful we can support the Judiciary Committee in any way possible. As a result of our research and investigation of the DEA's threatening letter campaign, in preparation of our litigation, we have become the most knowledgeable group, outside the DEA, who best understands the scope and import of their tactics. We are here to help." The Union of Medical Marijuana Providers (UMMP) is a legal advocacy group based in Los Angeles, California. The Union's membership comprises legally compliant cooperatives, collectives, and caregiver groups throughout the State of California. UMMP was founded in 2007 to address the shared concerns of legally compliant medical marijuana patient groups.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Sentencing Fairness for Crack Cocaine

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project] SUPREME COURT RULES THAT JUDGES MAY CONSIDER HARSHNESS OF CRACK POLICY IN SENTENCING Decision Comes on Eve of U.S. Sentencing Commission Vote to Reduce Crack Sentences for Prisoners The Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 today that a federal district judge's below-guideline sentencing decision based on the unfairness of the 100 to 1quantity disparity between powder and crack cocaine was permissible. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the decision in the case, Kimbrough v. U.S. (06-6330). "At a time of heightened public awareness regarding excessive penalties and disparate treatment within the justice system, today's ruling affirming judges' sentencing discretion is critical," said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. "Harsh mandatory sentences, particularly those for offenses involving crack cocaine, have created unjust racial disparity and excessive punishment for low-level offenses." The Court's decision in Kimbrough comes at a time of unprecedented interest in reforming the mandatory minimum sentencing policy for crack cocaine offenses. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress and hearings are expected early next year. Moreover, tomorrow, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is expected to vote on whether its recent sentencing guideline reduction for crack cocaine offenses will apply retroactively to people currently serving time in prison. Review today's decision in Kimbrough at: http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/06-6330.pdf
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Some Good News from the Supreme Court on Crack Sentencing

Update: Lots of analysis today at the Sentencing Law and Policy blog There was some good news today from the US Supreme Court on the subject of crack cocaine sentencing. It seems like it should be helpful in other kinds of sentencing as well. The following update, forwarded from The Sentencing Project's listserv, sums it up. I'm pleasantly surprised that this passed by a 7-2 margin -- perhaps judges will feel a little freer to give lighter sentences as a result.
SUPREME COURT RULES THAT JUDGES MAY CONSIDER HARSHNESS OF CRACK POLICY IN SENTENCING Decision Comes on Eve of U.S. Sentencing Commission Vote to Reduce Crack Sentences for Prisoners The Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 today that a federal district judge's below-guideline sentencing decision based on the unfairness of the 100 to 1quantity disparity between powder and crack cocaine was permissible. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the decision in the case, Kimbrough v. U.S. (06-6330). "At a time of heightened public awareness regarding excessive penalties and disparate treatment within the justice system, today's ruling affirming judges' sentencing discretion is critical," said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. "Harsh mandatory sentences, particularly those for offenses involving crack cocaine, have created unjust racial disparity and excessive punishment for low-level offenses." The Court's decision in Kimbrough comes at a time of unprecedented interest in reforming the mandatory minimum sentencing policy for crack cocaine offenses. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress and hearings are expected early next year. Moreover, tomorrow, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is expected to vote on whether its recent sentencing guideline reduction for crack cocaine offenses will apply retroactively to people currently serving time in prison. Review today's decision in Kimbrough at: http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/06-6330.pdf
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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