Mandatory Minimums

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Commute This Sentence; A Clemency Case Not Even President Bush Can Ignore--Or Can He?

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Washington Post
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/08/AR2006120801567.html

Pain Patients: Richard Paey Loses Appeal, Wheelchair-Bound Man to Remain in Prison

Richard Paey, the Florida pain patient serving a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer after being convicted of fraudulently obtaining pain medications, will remain in prison after losing an appeal Wednesday. Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on a 2-1 vote.

But in a highly unusual act, the appeals court offered some sympathy and advice. Paey should seek a commutation of his sentence from the governor, the court suggested. "Mr Paey's argument about his sentence does not fall on deaf ears," wrote Judge Douglas Wallace, "but it falls on the wrong ears."

While the two judge majority in the case was sympathetic but said its hands were tied, the lone dissenter on the bench, Associate Judge James Seals, disagreed. In a blistering dissent, Seals made a multi-point case that Paey's mandatory minimum sentence was both "cruel and unusual" and absurd in light of the shorter sentences given for many real crimes. (Click here to read an excerpt.)

Paey who was severely injured in an automobile accident in the 1980s, was arrested by the DEA and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office after buying more than 1,200 pain pills with fake prescriptions. Although agents watched Paey roll up to pharmacies in his wheelchair to fill the prescriptions, he was charged as a drug dealer under a Florida law that says anyone possessing more than an ounce is a dealer. Paey rejected a plea bargain before he was tried, saying it was against his principles.

While other appeals remain open to Paey, his attorney, John Flannery II, told the St. Petersburg Times he would take the appeals court up on its suggestion. Flannery filed a commutation petition Wednesday. It's unlikely that outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush will act on it before his term ends as year's end, but Flannery said he wanted to start the process for Governor-elect Charlie Crist.

Sentencing: US Supreme Court Lets Stand Pot Dealer's 55-Year Mandatory Minimum Sentence

The US Supreme Court Monday refused to hear an appeal of a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for a Salt Lake City marijuana dealer who carried a pistol in his boot during his transactions. The decision not to hear the case disappointed observers in the legal community who hoped it would lead to a constitutional review of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Weldon Angelos was a would-be rap music empresario and father of two children who also peddled pot. He was indicted on multiple marijuana distribution charges and, because of the gun in his boot, multiple charges of possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony. There is no evidence Angelos ever shot or killed anyone with his weapon, or even brandished it. But federal law requires a mandatory five-year sentence for a first weapons count, followed by mandatory 25-year sentences for each additional count.

Angelos refused a plea deal and was found guilty of the marijuana dealing counts and three weapons counts. When sentencing Angelos to the mandatory minimum 55 years in 2002, US Circuit Court Judge Paul Cassell issued a lengthy opinion protesting the injustice of sentencing the 26-year-old to a life behind bars.

Angelos appealed, but in a January 2005 opinion, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rejected his argument that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments. When he appealed to the Supreme Court, Angelos was joined by more than 140 top former justice officials from across the country, including four former US attorneys general, a former FBI director and other former federal judges and prosecutors who sided with him in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the court in October.

By refusing to take the case, the Supreme Court has signaled that it views decades-long prison sentences for nonviolent marijuana dealers as okay, and that wasn't okay with a substantial segment of the legal community. "We are very disappointed that the Supreme Court refused to hear this case in which a low-level marijuana offender received what is effectively a life sentence," said Jeff Sklaroff, an attorney representing the group that filed the brief, in remarks reported by the Deseret News.

Angelos' attorneys were similarly unhappy. "We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court did not agree to hear the case," University of Utah law professor Erik Luna said. "This case presented a great opportunity for the Supreme Court not only to correct this miscarriage of justice but also to clarify the scope of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment."

"We hope that Congress will realize the injustice caused by its mandatory-minimum scheme and dispose of it without the court having to intervene," said attorneys Troy Booher and Michael Zimmerman, a former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, in a statement Tuesday.

But federal prosecutors were happy. "We are pleased that the Supreme Court denied the petition," US Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said. "Congress has determined that armed drug trafficking is a particularly serious offense that warrants severe punishment."

Now, Angelos is facing decades in prison. He can appeal his conviction and sentence in a writ of habeas corpus, but such an appeal would go before the same courts that have already upheld them. Or he can seek a presidential pardon.

Or, when sanity finally comes to American drug sentencing practices, we can make sure to write in retroactivity for still-serving prisoners like Angelos.

Supreme Court Lets Stand 55-Year Term

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/04/AR2006120400355.html

Editorial: A Grim Anniversary

Today marks a grim anniversary in US drug policy, the enactment 20 years ago by Congress -- without hearings -- of draconian mandatory minimum sentences that have packed the federal prisons with vast numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders serving for unjustly long periods of time.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
Two who actually appear innocent are Lawrence and Lamont Garrison, twins who worked their way up from a poor, crime-ridden, northeast Washington DC neighborhood to ultimately be admitted to -- and almost graduate from -- Howard University School of Law.

Almost -- a month before graduating, they were swept up in a federal anti-drug operation, apparently "turned in" by an actual player in the drug trade, who needed to give the feds some names to get his sentence reduced. At least that's the way it looks to us -- click here to read a summary we published about the case in Drug War Chronicle six years ago.

Six years ago -- a long time, even if they were guilty of the crimes of which they were accused and convicted. Indecently long -- as is the 20 years the sentences have been on the books, during which time criticism has been leveled at them from numerous quarters and myriad angles: unjust, even violative of human rights, corruptive of the justice system, ineffective but VERY expensive, cruel, counterproductive.

Today a staff briefing in the US Senate is addressing this issue. The politics of drug and crime policy are difficult, and reform to federal sentencing laws has been mostly intractable. But not entirely, and every issue has a tipping point that when the time is ripe can send it in a different direction if the opportunity is seized.

Let us hope that this will be the time. No, let's make it the time.

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.
Location: 
United States

Editorial: Call It What You Want

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg
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.

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.

Location: 
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

Families Against Mandatory Minimums 15th Anniversary

September 21, 2006 Sphinx Club 1315 K St. NW, Washington, DC 6:00 reception 7:00 dinner and program Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation invites you to join in commemorating the 15th anniversary of FAMM's sentencing advocacy in Washington, DC on September 21. For 15 years, FAMM has advocated for fair and proportionate sentencing laws on behalf of the thousands of individuals and families affected by harsh mandatory sentences. Since 1991, FAMM's work has directly contributed to more equitable sentences for tens of thousands of defendants nationwide and paved the way for a shift away from mandatory sentencing policies. Among FAMM's successes are changes to federal LSD and marijuana sentencing policies, and a "safety-valve" to allow judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum in certain federal drug cases. In Michigan, FAMM led the successful effort to repeal all drug mandatory minimum sentences - a change that provided earlier parole eligibility to hundreds of prisoners serving harsh sentences. Will you please join us for cocktails, dinner and an awards program to honor the following individuals whose voices have fostered support for sentencing justice. Representatives Bob Inglis (R-SC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) For their courageous leadership in sentencing reform Mercedes Ruehl, actress For her poignant portrayal of a mother in prison in Court TV's movie, Guilt by Association Gary Fields, Wall Street Journal reporter For his relentless coverage of those affected by sentencing and criminal justice policies JeDonna Young, formerly incarcerated mother For tipping the scales of sentencing justice in MI with her personal story With music by national recording artist Jill Sobule The host committee for the gala includes: Ed Crane The Honorable Don Edwards The Honorable Mickey Edwards Jason Flom Wade Henderson The Honorable Bob Kerrey Laura Murphy Pat Nolan Carly Simon and many others Please visit http://famm.org to purchase your tickets today, so that you won't miss out on this exclusive event! You can also show your support for FAMM by purchasing an advertisement in the dinner program. All proceeds will be used to support FAMM's work for fair and equitable sentences. I look forward to seeing you on September 21. Sincerely, Julie Stewart President, Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Date: 
Thu, 09/21/2006 - 6:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: 
1315 K St. NW
Washington, DC
United States

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