Sentencing

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County Judge Delays Drug Treatment Law Change

Localização: 
Oakland, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Oakland Tribune
URL: 
http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_4342271

Sentencing: US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Throws out Crack Cocaine Sentence

In a ruling Monday, the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia threw out a 24-year prison sentence for a man possessing less than three ounces of crack cocaine. The court held that the US District Court judge who sentenced the man erred in believing he had to sentence the man based on the 100:1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Such sentences are no longer mandatory, said the appeals court, only advisory.

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Under a 1986 law passed in the midst of a wave of anti-drug hysteria, the US Congress enacted a two-tier sentencing scheme for cocaine defendants with crack defendants facing sentences decades longer than powder cocaine defendants for possessing the same amount of the drug. But the appeals court held that since the US Supreme Court last year ruled that federal sentencing guidelines were only advisory and not mandatory, sentencing judges need not be bound by the guidelines.

The three-judge panel held that defendant Johnny Gunter was entitled to a new sentencing hearing. "The limited holding here is that district courts may consider the crack/powder cocaine differential in the guidelines as a factor, but not a mandate, in the... sentencing process," wrote Judge Thomas Ambro for the court.

Assistant US Attorney Robert Zauzmer told the Philadelphia Inquirer the ruling was likely to be cited by every defendant in a crack case. "This is a significant opinion which we are studying closely," he said, adding prosecutors were considering whether to ask the appeals court to reconsider the decision or appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Assistant Federal Defender David McColgin, meanwhile, told the Inquirer the ruling would help reduce the racial disparities existing in cocaine sentencing. "This has a great impact in helping to reduce the racial disparity that stems from that ratio," McColgin said.

Luncheon Reception with Anthony Papa

The Open Society Institute - Washington Office hosts a Luncheon Reception and Discussion featuring Anthony Papa, the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom Friday, September 29, 2006 Noon-1:30pm 1120 19th Street, NW, 8th Floor Washington, DC 20036 RSVP by Sept. 22 to [email protected] or call (202) 721-5649 Anthony Papa is an acclaimed painter, author, and formerly incarcerated person. He is also the author of the book: 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom. Convicted of his first and only criminal offense in a police sting operation, Papa discovered painting while at Sing Sing and, essentially, painted his way to freedom. His 15-year sentence was cut short when one of his works was selected for exhibition at the Whitney Museum, and he was granted clemency by Governor Pataki. Since his release, Papa has become a noted advocate for law and prison reform. Anthony Papa will be in town as the honoree of the first annual Taste of Justice Fair, at the Martin Luther King Library, Saturday, September 30 from 10-5, cosponsored by the Prisons Foundation, along with a host of criminal justice, advocacy, legal, educational, and religious organizations. For more information on Taste of Justice, call (202) 393-1511.
Data: 
Fri, 09/29/2006 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Localização: 
1120 19th Street, NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Latino Leaders Take Position Against Drug War

From the Drug Policy Alliance: Latino Leaders Take Position Against Drug War Tuesday, September 12, 2006 Last week in Los Angeles, 2,000 Latino activists and leaders from all over the U.S. gathered to set a political agenda at the National Latino Congreso. One of the issues they took on was the war on drugs, resulting in the unanimous passage of a resolution to investigate the real cost of the drug war. Authored by DPA's southern California director, Alberto Mendoza, the resolution called for supporting legislation that promotes sentencing reform as well as treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. The resolution also called for the formation of state task forces to compare current drug war spending to public education and health spending "so that states can understand the real cost of the war on drugs in the state budgets and in their communities." In passing the resolution, the Latino Congreso acknowledged the disproportionate representation of Latinos in jails and prisons, the exorbitant cost of incarcerating nonviolent offenders, and the existence of alternative strategies that focus on public health rather than criminal justice. The resolution noted, "We believe that nonviolent substance abusers are not menaces to our communities but rather a troubled yet integral part of our community who need to be reclaimed." Mendoza said, "As Latinos, we are finally waking up to the fact that this war is a waste of money and resources, all of which could help us re-build our communities and families instead of destroying them." In addition to working on the resolution, DPA co-sponsored the conference. Mendoza spoke at a workshop about DPA's harm reduction and syringe access work, while DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann spoke at a workshop and on a plenary. Mendoza said, "I'm proud that DPA was involved with this conference, and proud that the National Latino Congreso approved our resolution. It clearly indicates that Latinos are tired of the monumental negative impact the war on drugs has had on us and our communities."
Localização: 
United States

Heroin Lifers, DEA Pain Guidance, California Lowest Priority Initiatives

Those are the feature stories I think I will be doing this week. It doesn't always happen that way, though. Some readers may recall that I was going to do the Louisiana heroin lifer story last week, but I didn't manage to get ahold of any of the people critical to the story. I'm back on it again this week. Similarly, something may break during the week. This typically happens on Thursday, the day we're supposed to be wrapping up the Chronicle. I'll also be looking into the DEA's release last week of a new policy statement on pain management. Some reformers have hailed it as a victory for the movement, but others are not so sure, and neither am I. I'll be talking to a wide range of people who are involved in this issue to try to find out what this really means. Meanwhile, elections are only a matter of weeks away. I'll be taking a look this week at how things are going in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, the three California cities where "lowest law enforcement priority" marijuana initiatives are on the ballot. And, of course, there will also be the seven or eight shorter pieces we do each week.
Localização: 
United States

Editorial: Call It What You Want

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David Borden
One group of Louisianans who had mostly been forgotten since long before the hurricane hit are a group of prisoners, mostly low-level offenders, convicted of selling heroin or of possession with intent to sell. The "Heroin Lifers," as they are known to the small number of people paying attention, were sentenced under a draconian law passed in 1973 that mandates a life-without-parole sentence for any such offense. Neither the quantity of heroin involved nor any details of the actual circumstances are allowed to be considered under this particularly harsh mandatory minimum statute.

Our editor stumbled across the Lifers last week while talking to experts about the post-Katrina New Orleans jail scandal, and is currently researching the issue. We don't yet know how many of them there are, though author Sasha Abramsky wrote in Legal Times 2 ½ years ago that the legislature was considering granting parole to Heroin Lifers who had served at least 40 years of their sentences and there were about 250 such people. If sources can be reached this week we'll have a full story in the Chronicle next issue.

It's good -- a little -- that Louisiana's powers-that-be were willing to help out those 250 people. Even if the motivation was the money they could save by not having to provide prison-based geriatric care for no reason (I speculate, perhaps there were other reasons too), it's better -- slightly -- than nothing.

But what about the merely 30-year prisoners? Or the 20-years? Five?

The idea of a lifetime behind bars, with no possibility of redemption, has an air of unreality to it -- most of us cannot really conceive of what such a life would be like, or what it would be like to have the knowledge that that was to be one's life. Sentencing like that for any but the worst of the worst of all criminals must be the work of people who have lost perspective on what incarceration truly means. Imagine that you are to spend a single year in jail. Doesn't it seem like a long time? Just one year of incarceration is intrinsically a pretty harsh punishment, if the measure of harshness is the actual effect a punishment has on the individual punished. Even if one stop short of advocating outright legalization of drugs (I advocate legalization, for many reasons), the Louisiana law, and many similar ones passed by other states and by Congress, still defy reason.

So what should we call such the act of dealing a lengthy, mandatory minimum prison term to a minor drug offender, let alone a life-without-parole term? Should we call it injustice? Cruelty? Tyranny? Violative of human rights? Evil? Take your pick of those or other descriptors -- at a minimum let us all agree it is senseless and must cease as soon as possible.

Each day that passes is another day the Heroin Lifers languish behind bars, denied the most essential, natural right to which they are entitled: the right to freedom.

Southeast Asia: Australian Foreign Minister "Grateful" for Indonesia's Tough Drug Stance After Four Australians Sentenced to Death for Smuggling

After the Indonesian Supreme Court sentenced four Australian citizens to death for trying to smuggle heroin from Bali to Australia, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told a press conference Tuesday night he was "grateful" for Indonesia's tough stance on drug policy. Downer held out little hope that the four, and two others already sentenced to death, would be spared.

Part of a group known as the "Bali Nine," the four Australians had originally been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but prosecutors appealed the "lenient" sentences, and earlier this week the Supreme Court resentenced them to death. They join two other young members of the "Bali Nine" already sentenced to die in a case involving 18 pounds of heroin.

At the press conference called to confirm the imposition of the death sentences, Downer said the case would not harm relations between the two countries. "We actually urged the Indonesians to be tough on drug trafficking," he said. "The last thing we want is heroin brought into Australia from Indonesia. Don't make any mistake about that. We are grateful to the Indonesians for being tough on drugs. It's just that we don't support capital punishment. That they have arrested people who've been trafficking drugs means those drugs don't come into Australia and innocent Australians, or drug users in Australia innocent or not, aren't going to use those drugs, and that's a good thing."

Despite Downer's sanguine comments, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, himself a staunch drug warrior, announced he would seek clemency, although he cautioned it would be unlikely. "I don't think people should entertain too many optimistic thoughts because it's difficult, but we will try hard and we will put the case against the death penalty," Howard said late on Wednesday.

Other Australian politicians have protested more loudly. "Judicial murder is what the Indonesian authorities have in mind here. It is a repugnant and barbaric practice," Green Senator Bob Brown told Reuters.

A group of Australian politicians who are members of Amnesty International said they would protest to the Indonesian government. "We should not sit back and say this is their laws and they can do what they want," said government MP Bruce Baird. Meanwhile, the six young Australians confront their imminent mortality.

One of the Australians sentenced to death, 20-year-old Scott Rush, said he was shocked by the ruling and pleaded for help. "This is making my head spin. I am sitting on death, am I?," he said. "At first I didn't want to appeal because of this sort of thing. I was scared and me and my parents were stressed. But everyone said no Australians would be put to death, and now I am on death row. If there is anything people can do to prevent this please make it happen because I need a second chance at life."

That's the way we do things in Indonesia, the country's top cop, General Sutanto said. "In Indonesia, drugs abuse is rampant because punishment has been too lenient. If we are not serious about tackling the problem, drug traffickers will not be deterred," Sutanto told reporters, according to Reuters.

Editor's Note: It's foolishly naive to think that the death penalty does or can deter drug trafficking. After all, many participants in the drug trade already risk death at the hands of their competitors routinely. A government adding a few more bodies to the pile does nothing to fundamentally alter that reality. Much more likely is that it will push the trade into the hands of the most dangerous kinds of criminals who are most comfortable taking the risk.

Mandatory Minimums Panel at Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference

Thursday, Sept. 7: Congressional Black Caucus panel on mandatory sentences

Dear FAMM supporters,

We invite you to attend an important panel discussion on mandatory sentences as part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 36th Annual Legislative Conference on Thursday, September 7, 2006.

Rep. Maxine Waters is hosting "Continuing the Struggle to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentencing in the Criminal Justice System," from 3 to 5:30 pm in Room 140-A of the Washington Convention Center, located at 801 Mount Vernon Place, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Panelists include Julie Stewart, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project; Nkechi Taifa, Senior Policy Analyst of the Open Society Policy Center; Roosevelt Dorn, Mayor of Inglewood, Calif., and John F. Street, Mayor of Philadelphia.

The Washington Convention Center is METRO accessible and street parking is also available. Please arrive at least 15 minutes early to locate Room 140-A and obtain seating.

For more information, contact Angelyn Frazer, FAMM organizing director, at (202) 822-6700.

Localização: 
United States

Looking at Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

During the research I did for Friday's feature article on the prisoners doing "Katrina time", two of the of the people I talked to implored to look into the plight of another set of victims of the Louisiana criminal justice system: the "heroin lifers." The "heroin lifers" are a group of prisoners, many now aged, who were arrested under a draconian state law enacted in 1973 that mandated life in prison without parole for the sale of any amount of heroin or possession with intent to sell. Some were released on appeal beginning in the 1980s, but others linger in prison. At this point, I'm a little unclear on the numbers and the exact situation. The tough heroin law may have changed in the 1980s--I'm not sure yet--and the state dramatically reformed its sentencing practices in 2001. So why are the good citizens of Louisiana paying to keep a bunch of non-violent old men on the geriatric ward? I just did an initial Google search, and it revealed very little: Two links to a Louisiana blog that linked to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story that can no longer be found, and a five year old plea on a prison justice mailing list for help in the case of one of the lifers, then 53-year-old Earnest Perique, who was trying to get out after serving 26 years. I'll be looking into this for another feature story next week.
Localização: 
United States

Web Scan: Mark Fiore, Tony Papa, Dean Kuipers

Mark Fiore animation: The United States of Incarceration

former prisoner turned activist Anthony Papa knocks narcotics prosecutor for Rockefeller reform distortion in NYT letter to the editor

"Burning Rainbow Farm" author Dean Kuipers on "The Spirit of Tommy Chong," posted on Alternet's Drug Reporter

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