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Latest on Atlanta Police Killing of Elderly Woman in Drug Raid

The killing of an elderly Atlanta woman after she shot and wounded three undercover policemen during a nighttime drug raid just might end up shedding some much needed light on the sordid business that is drug law enforcement in these United States. What we're seeing so far is not exactly a shining endorsement of the Atlanta Police Department's REDDOG (Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia) drug squad or what looks to be the mindless search warrant machinery of the Fulton County courts. Just today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which deserves kudos for being all over this travesty, reported that the snitch on whose word the warrant was based now says he never bought drugs at Johnston's address, and the narcs involved in the raid asked him to lie about it after the fact. The Journal-Constitution also provides a copy of the search warrant, which Fulton County officials originally refused to release. The warrant is clearly marked as a "no-knock" warrant, putting the lie to initial police reports that police had knocked and announced, as required by regular search warrants. The affidavit for the warrant is a banal portrait of the day-to-day grinding of the drug war: The narc describes how he points an informant at the address, gives him $50, he comes back with two bags of crack he bought from a man known only as "Sam"…and that's that. Rubberstamp, please. Interestingly, there is no recording of the alleged transaction, and the affidavit is written to suggest that police surveilled the transaction, but does not actually say that they did. The seven narcs involved in this little shindig are now on suspension. Now, again according to the Journal-Constitution, Police Chief Richard Pennington says the department will review its "no-knock" policy, which would be good news. "No-knock" raids are a well-documented clear and present danger to police, innocent civilians, and yes, even people actually selling banned substances. You don't deserve summary execution for slinging some bags of crack. Meanwhile, in a Monday night update on the case, CNN reported that the killing of Kathryn Johnston will be the subject of a federal investigation. That, too, is good news. It means the heat is on, but as anyone who has watched these stories play out in the past knows, justice for the victims of these out-of-control, heavy-handed police raids is hard to come by. At the least, we hope the cops will be a little less hesitant to risk life and death—their own and others—over a couple of rocks of crack.
Atlanta, GA
United States

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.
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.

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