Skip to comments.Would You Trust the System if Your Kid Were On Trial?
Posted on 01/20/2014 1:14:34 PM PST by Kaslin
Clarence Aaron described his time in federal prison serving life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug conviction as "a walking death sentence on" his head. Before President Barack Obama commuted his sentence last month, Aaron faced a longer sentence than some fellow inmates with multiple felonies -- even murder.
Aaron was hardly the only nonviolent offender sentenced to life without parole. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that more than 2,000 federal inmates were serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses.
How can a nonviolent first-time offender be sentenced to life without parole?
Their biggest mistake, after their crimes, was not pleading guilty. "Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice. In the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years or risk life without parole by going to trial," Human Rights Watch adviser Jamie Fellner says. She has a term for it: "the trial penalty," which can deliver longer time than drug dealing itself.
When a case goes to trial, the prosecutor gets to pick the sentence by choosing the amount of drugs for which a defendant is charged. A federal judge had to sentence Aaron to life because he was convicted of conspiracy to traffic 23 kilograms of crack and powder cocaine. The crazy part is that prosecutors got to 23 kilograms by charging Aaron for a 9-kilogram deal that did happen and a 15-kilogram deal that did not.
The career dealers knew how to game the system. Their sentences were reduced because they testified against Aaron.
The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys is fighting back against the bad press on federal mandatory minimums. The system, prosecutors argue, protects the public from the old days when a defendant's sentence depended on which judge heard the case. Now the guilty know that some prison time is unavoidable.
Georgetown University Law Center professor Bill Otis, a former federal prosecutor, reminded me that every system, every country, has its sentencing anomalies. The federal system at least has four checks -- plea bargains, a "safety valve" that allows judges to reduce the punishment for some low-level defendants, defendants' ability to reduce their penalty by testifying against others, and the presidential pardon power that commuted Aaron's life sentence.
I should add that Otis doesn't see drug dealing as nonviolent, not when an addict could die of an overdose.
I would expect to agree with everything Otis said. No system is perfect. Plea bargains benefit both law enforcement and defendants. The federal "safety valve" gives judges some discretion. Guilty parties can reduce their sentences by cooperating with authorities. If all else fails, there is the presidential pardon.
Except: The minimum sentence for a nonviolent offense should not be life without parole, basically the same as the maximum sentence.
Federal prosecutors want the public to trust them even when they do nothing to curb their own excesses. No reasonable person would assert that there is a public interest in putting young, low-level, nonviolent offenders, with or without prior convictions, behind bars until they die.
If the Department of Justice had demonstrated any kind of commitment to fixing its excesses, the public could trust prosecutors. Instead, the prosecutorial-industrial complex has circled the wagons and actually defends these medieval punishments.
Florida's Stephanie George was one of the other seven recipients of a presidential commutation last month. Like Aaron, who told me he was guilty of "a big crime," George made some huge mistakes. In 1996, authorities searched her house and found $14,000 and 500 grams of her boyfriend's cocaine stash in her attic. Because George had two prior felonies -- for selling $40 and $120 worth of crack, which were counted as separate felonies -- this 26-year-old woman was sentenced to life without parole.
When The Washington Post praised Obama for showing mercy toward a mother serving "a life sentence for stashing her boyfriend's drugs," the NAAUSA took offense. President Robert Gay Guthrie chided the editorial board for not recognizing that George's "prior convictions caused her to be considered a 'career criminal' with a criminal history at the highest level under the federal sentencing guidelines. Federal law, as mandated by Congress, caused her drug distribution conviction, her third, to trigger a life sentence."
That's why Congress should change the law.
If you are selling you’re going to keep selling. I think Stephanie George’s sentence was dead right. And she was involved with other druggies and half a kilo of coke is not a small personal stash. Hers or her dudes. After two arrests for selling crack it’s clear she wasn’t changing her lifestyle and would have kept on selling crack and possibly moving some of her guy friends’ coke he hid in her place. Her life hadn’t changed and the drug people she associated with she was still associating with. She kept selling after the first time arrested, and would have kept selling. Many sell to pay for their own habit.
She got the proper sentence.
Drug dealers shouldn’t have life sentences for dealing death. They should be executed.
I will start by saying I do not like minimum guidelines forced on judges, but I have no sympathy for dopers. Can’t do the time don’t do the crime. Pick your “friends” carefully.
exiled to Antarctica
Which should be carried out quickly
2) When it comes to some drug convictions, I am willing to consider that some people have been treated unfairly. That is sad.
3) As a Conservative, I say "the law is the law". I do not approve of commuting sentences, I do not want to hear about heart-breaking cases. If people want to work to change the laws, that is fine. But these young people serving life without parole? I don't like it when Obama ignores the law, and so I will not entertain the thought that the law should be "overlooked" on behalf of these fine upstanding citizens.
The law is that the President has the Constitutional power to
“ Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
I’m not saying it CAN’T be done — I’m saying it SHOULDN’T be done, in these cases.
More than 50 lbs. of coke / crack in two deals? Sorry, but any potential of my having sympathy for his situation was lost when they mentioned the 8 and 15 kg weight of what he did and then later tried to sell. That’s a million $ illegal business he was running.
Take your own advice and change the law.
There was a time when Amendments were needed to ban substances (alcohol).
The message my kids got was that, if they got into trouble with the law, they were on their own, unless they were being prosecuted for political, religious, or racial reasons, i.e., for being white like George Zimmerman. They got the message, unlike Trayvon Martin.
People with agendas don’t care about the Constitution or laws. The new standard is “does the government NEED to do this? Yes? Then it’s just fine.” Rather than asking “is the government allowed to do this?”
You can see it in many of the recent cases. Can the government require people to buy insurance? I’d say no. But since they need to do it to make Obamacare work, they can do it.
Close, but no cigar. "The real standardis "does the government want to do this"?
No joke. So why is Debra Saunders in here, whining like a Southern Poverty Law Center (aka "Cut 'Em Loose Central -- If They're Black") for abolition of the sentences?
Congress knew about the different pharmacological and social effects of crack versus snow. And they are different, as would again be the mythical (from Robocop II) "nuke" if it existed as portrayed.
This is more race-based "differential impact" whining and cozening. Debra won't be around to mop up the blood of all the whites and Asians these people will kill if they all get an Obamanoid "get out of jail free" card from Alien Larva Holder.
Sorry. Should have put quotes around ‘need’.
“More than 50 lbs. of coke / crack in two deals? Sorry, but any potential of my having sympathy for his situation was lost when they mentioned the 8 and 15 kg weight of what he did and then later tried to sell. Thats a million $ illegal business he was running.”
Before you judge, you should read up on the case. He didn’t have or try to sell anything. His involvement was that he knew 2 different groups of people and introduced them. That was it. He got hauled in with everyone else after the 2 groups were busted. He didn’t think he had done anything wrong and that he would surely be found innocent in court. He didn’t cut a plea deal and testify against everyone else. An overzealous prosecutor took it out on him.
The Federal government has absolutely no Constitutional authority to tell me what substances I may or may not put into my own body.
no but your state might. states have far more ability and actually if people - i/e society - of a certain state wants to outlaw a substance it can do so if the people if that state decide to do so. at the state level people can determine his, and that’s called governing locally and governing the way the citizens of that state want it. look at what they are doing with marijuana in a bunch of places.
Just curious how u came up with 50 lbs?
23 kg x 2.2 = 50.6 lbs.
You are right. I based my opinion on just a quick scan of the article.
He’s a pusher. He’s as much a murderer as the guy who pulls the trigger.
He’s a pusher. He’s as much a murderer as the guy who pulls the trigger.
Getting old. Was thinking the other way :)