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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.

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.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/karen-garrison.jpg
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.
Location: 
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.
Location: 
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

Hemp: Court Rejects Bid By North Dakota Farmers to Get DEA Out of the Way

In Bismarck, US District Court Judge Daniel Hovland Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by two would-be North Dakota hemp farmers seeking to end the DEA's ban on commercial hemp farming in the United States. Controlling opinions in the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals find that the federal Controlled Substances Act includes industrial hemp within the definition of marijuana, thus leaving hemp under the jurisdiction of the drug agency, Hovland wrote in his 22-page decision.

Backed by a state law permitting industrial hemp production and a friendly state Department of Agriculture, farmers Wayne Hauge and David Monson, the latter also a Republican state legislator, applied for licenses from the DEA to grow hemp. When the DEA failed to act on their applications, they sued in federal court.

Attorneys for the farmers said they are considering whether to appeal the decision. Among possible grounds would be the court's finding, following the DEA, that hemp and marijuana are the same thing.

While recognizing that industrial hemp could be a valuable commercial crop for North Dakota and that the farmers are unlikely to ever get DEA approval of their applications, Hovland wrote that the issue is one best resolved by Congress.

"The policy arguments raised by the plaintiffs are best suited for Congress rather than a federal courtroom in North Dakota," wrote Hovland, noting that a bill -- the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007 -- had been introduced to address the issue. "Whether efforts to amend the law will prevail, and whether North Dakota farmers will be permitted to grow industrial hemp in the future, are issues that should ultimately rest in the hands of Congress rather than in the hands of a federal judge."

"Obviously we are disappointed with the decision," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a grassroots group working to bring industrial hemp farming back to the US. "The court's decision shows it understands that the established and growing market for industrial hemp would be beneficial for North Dakota farmers to supply. Yet the decision overlooks Congress's original intent -- and the fact that farmers continued to grow hemp in the US for twenty years after marijuana was banned. If the plaintiffs decide to appeal the case, we would wholeheartedly support that effort. We are not giving up and will take this decision to Washington, DC to prompt action by Congress on HR 1009, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007, which would clarify a state's right to grow the crop," added Steenstra.

While the farmers lost their case, it has apparently prompted the DEA to finally act on an eight-year-old application from North Dakota State University to conduct research on industrial hemp. During oral arguments in the case two weeks ago in Bismarck, the DEA's failure to act on the university's application came under discussion as the court weighed the likelihood of the agency ever responding to the farmers. Now, the DEA has sent a "Memorandum of Agreement" to the university which, if signed by the school, would clear the way for research to get underway.

"It seems our arguments about the DEA's delay in processing NDSU's application have resulted in the agency finally taking positive action to allow research," noted David Bronner, president of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a manufacturer of soap and other body care products using hemp oil imported from Canada.

But that's small solace for hemp advocates and North Dakota farmers in the face of a federal court system that has so far been unable to apply common sense to the hemp question.

Press Release: Court Rejects North Dakota Farmers’ Bid to Grow Industrial Hemp

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 29, 2007 CONTACT: Adam Eidinger: 202-744-2671, adam@votehemp.com or Tom Murphy: 207-542-4998, tom@votehemp.com Court Rejects North Dakota Farmers’ Bid to Grow Industrial Hemp Congress Should Address this Problem, Says Judge Lawsuit Motivated DEA to Offer Hemp Research Agreement to NDSU after Eight-Year Wait 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, had their case dismissed by federal Judge Daniel Hovland yesterday. In a 22-page decision, Judge Hovland wrote that the problem facing state-licensed hemp farmers David Monson and Wayne Hauge needs to be addressed by Congress if they hope to ever grow the versatile crop which is used in everything from food and soap to clothing and auto parts. The decision can be read at: http://www.votehemp.com/legal_cases_ND.html. Lawyers working on behalf of the farmers are considering an appeal on a number of issues. In particular, the Court ruled that hemp and marijuana are the same, as the DEA has contended for years. However, scientific evidence clearly shows that not only is industrial hemp genetically distinct from the drug marijuana, there are also absolutely no psychoactive effects from ingesting it. “Obviously we are disappointed with the decision,” says Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp, a grassroots group working to bring industrial hemp farming back to the U.S. “The Court’s decision shows it understands that the established and growing market for industrial hemp would be beneficial for North Dakota farmers to supply. Yet the decision overlooks Congress’s original intent – and the fact that farmers continued to grow hemp in the U.S. for twenty years after marijuana was banned. If the plaintiffs decide to appeal the case, we would wholeheartedly support that effort. We are not giving up and will take this decision to Washington, DC to prompt action by Congress on HR 1009, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007, which would clarify a state’s right to grow the crop,” adds Steenstra. In a related development, Vote Hemp has learned that the DEA has sent a “Memorandum of Agreement” to North Dakota State University (NDSU) which, if signed by the school, would clear the way for industrial hemp research there. NDSU filed an amicus brief in support of the farmers’ lawsuit which highlighted the university’s eight-year struggle to secure a license from the DEA to grow industrial hemp for research as mandated by state law. “It seems our arguments about the DEA’s delay in processing NDSU’s application have resulted in the agency finally taking positive action to allow research,” comments David Bronner, President of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a manufacturer of soap and other body care products using hemp oil imported from Canada. 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.
Location: 
Bismarck, ND
United States

Press Release: Judge Promises Decision by End of November in North Dakota Hemp Farming Lawsuit – Monson v. DEA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 15, 2007 CONTACT: Adam Eidinger at 202-744-2671, adam@votehemp.com, or Tom Murphy at 207-542-4998, tom@votehemp.com Judge Promises Decision by End of November in North Dakota Hemp Farming Lawsuit – Monson v. DEA BISMARCK, ND – Two North Dakota farmers who filed a lawsuit in June to end the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) ban on commercial hemp farming in the United States were in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, November 14, 2007. The farmers, State Rep. David Monson of Osnabrock and Wayne Hauge of Ray, observed the oral arguments made before Judge Daniel Hovland on their behalf by attorneys Tim Purdon and Joe Sandler. Judge Hovland stated he had read and re-read the briefs filed by both sides in the landmark case and concluded the hearing by saying, “I promise to make a decision by the end of the month,” in regards to the DEA’s motion to dismiss. In the meantime, Judge Hovland stayed the farmers motion for summary judgment as he felt the motion to dismiss should be dealt with first. “Today’s arguments revealed numerous weak points that the DEA is relying on to thwart this landmark case,” said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp. “The DEA’s assertion that the farmers didn’t have standing because they haven’t grown industrial hemp yet was rejected by Judge Hovland when he said ‘I am not convinced that the plaintiffs have to expose themselves to prosecution’ and reminded Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney Wendy Ertmer, who argued on behalf of the government, that ‘this Court has jurisdiction to make a declaratory judgment,’ which is what we are seeking,” added Steenstra. Judge Hovland expressed skepticism that the DEA would ever act on the applications, based on the fact that an application by North Dakota State University was still pending after more than eight years. Judge Hovland also indicated he thinks that the DEA has “prejudged the merits of the applications to grow hemp.” While much of the government’s dispute centered on their contention that this case is not ripe because they are still considering the farmers’ application, attorney Joe Sandler argued that the application the farmers made to the DEA is no longer really the issue. “This case is unique because North Dakota is the only state to regulate industrial hemp so only the exempted portions of plant, that is, the non-viable seed, stalk and oil, enter commerce of any kind, whether intrastate or interstate,” said Sandler. “When the North Dakota legislature changed its eight-year-old hemp law to no longer require a DEA license this past April, it made it a matter of state law that the farmer who goes through the licensing process need not involve the DEA in any way since only the exempted portions of the plant, as described in the Controlled Substances Act, would enter commerce.” Judge Hovland also asked Ms. Ertmer what the DOJ’s position is on HR 1009, the federal Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007. Ms. Ertmer said she did not know, however Vote Hemp believes that the DOJ would in fact aggressively oppose the Act if it were to be heard in Congress. A transcript of the November 14 hearing will be available in a couple weeks. If successful, the landmark lawsuit will lead to the first state–regulated commercial cultivation of industrial hemp in fifty years. Vote Hemp, the nation's leading industrial hemp advocacy group, and its supporters are providing financial support for the lawsuit. If it is 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.
Location: 
Bismarck, ND
United States

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