“Sentencing Commission in sweeping review of prison terms for drug dealers”

August 16, 2013

The Guardian on August 15, 2013 released the following:

By: Dan Roberts in Washington

“The US Sentencing Commission has voted unanimously to begin a sweeping review of federal sentences for drug dealers in a move that could herald long-awaited reductions in America’s prison population.

Just days after attorney general Eric Holder called for a new approach to the so-called “war on drugs”, the commission met in Washington to agree a new policy priority that potentially goes far further than the Department of Justice can in lowering sentences.

As anticipated, the independent government agency, which issues sentencing guidelines to federal judges, will now spend the next few weeks reviewing its “drug quantity table” – the grid that determines prison lengths for dozens of different categories of offence – before publishing new recommendations in January.

A reduction in sentencing guidelines could still be blocked by Congress, but Holder’s speech on Monday has coincided with a new mood of reform in Washington that reverses decades of political pressure to increase penalties for drug dealers. His comments were welcomed by Senate judiciary committee chair Patrick Leahy and leading Republicans such as senator Rand Paul.

Currently the guidelines in the commission’s drug quantity table can result in first-time offenders facing sentences of 19 to 24 years, with no parole, for possession of the maximum quantities of heroin, crack or methamphetamine. Even dealers caught with 100g of cocaine can face between 27 and 33 months, according to the table.

A number of specific offences are also subject to mandatory minimum sentences prescribed by Congress, although Holder instructed US prosecutors on Monday to begin circumventing such automatic terms by changing the way they bring charges.

The seven commissioners who voted on the sentencing panel, including five senior judges, are now thought likely to go much further than this by formulating across-the-board changes to the recommended sentences.

Speaking afterwards, Dabney Friedrich, a former associate counsel in the Bush White House who sits on the commission, told the Guardian she thought that pressure in Congress to control the cost of the US prison system would be a key factor in ensuring political support for such a move.

The Department of Justice also issued a supportive statement on Thursday, which welcomed the commission’s progress.

“As the attorney general expressed earlier this week, we think there is much to be done to improve federal sentencing and corrections,” said DOJ official Jonathan Wroblewski. “Moreover, we think the US Sentencing Commission has a very big role to play in shaping that reform.”

In a statement issued after its meeting, the commission noted that drug offenders account for nearly half of all federal inmates, and that “an adjustment to the drug quantity tables in the sentencing guidelines could have a significant impact on sentence lengths and prison populations.”

“With a growing crisis in federal prison populations and budgets, it is timely and important for us to examine mandatory minimum penalties and drug sentences, which contribute significantly to the federal prison population,” added Judge Patti Saris, chair of the commission.

“The Commission is looking forward to a serious and thoughtful reconsideration of some of the sentencing guidelines which most strongly impact the federal criminal justice system,” she said. “I am glad that members of Congress from both parties and the Attorney General are
engaged in similar efforts.”

The Commission also pledged to work with Congress to reduce the “severity and scope of mandatory minimum penalties and consider expanding the ‘safety valve’ statute which exempts certain low-level non-violent
offenders from mandatory minimum penalties”. It will pass its final amendments to Congress in May.

Political reaction to the recent sentencing developments has been broadly positive. Senator Leahy said was pleased at Holder’s call for a review of mandatory minimum sentences.

Although he believes long sentences are appropriate in some cases, but the veteran Democrat said it believes judges should be given more flexibility rather than relying on mandatory requirements.

Others have expressed concern however at the new mood sweeping Washington.

William Otis, a former federal prosecutor at Georgetown University, said stiffer sentences in recent decades had contributed to lower crime rates.

“Two generations ago, in the 1960s and 1970s, our country had the wholly discretionary sentencing system Holder admires. For our trouble, we got a national crime wave,” he wrote in a USA Today op-ed.

“We have every right to instruct judges that some offenses are just too awful to allow an overly sympathetic jurist to burst through a congressionally established floor.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

Federal Crimes – Appeal

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Federal District Court Judge: How Mandatory Minimums Forced Me to Send More Than 1,000 Nonviolent Drug Offenders to Federal Prison

October 26, 2012

The Nation on October 24, 2012 released the following:

Judge Mark W. Bennett

“Reuters/Joshua Lott

Growing up in blue collar Circle Pines, Minnesota, in the 1950s, raised by parents from the “Greatest Generation,” I dreamed only of becoming a civil rights lawyer. My passion for justice was hard-wired into my DNA. Never could I have imagined that by the end of my 50s, after nineteen years as one of 678 federal district court judges in the nation, I would have sent 1,092 of my fellow citizens to federal prison for mandatory minimum sentences ranging from sixty months to life without the possibility of release. The majority of these women, men and young adults are nonviolent drug addicts. Methamphetamine is their drug of choice. Crack cocaine is a distant second. Drug kingpins? Oh yes, I’ve sentenced them, too. But I can count them on one hand. While I’m extremely proud of my father’s service in World War II, I am greatly conflicted about my role in the “war on drugs.”

You might think the Northern District of Iowa—a bucolic area home to just one city with a population above 100,000—is a sleepy place with few federal crimes. You would be wrong. Of the ninety-four district courts across the United States, we have the sixth-heaviest criminal caseload per judge. Here in the heartland, I sentence more drug offenders in a single year than the average federal district court judge in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco—combined. While drug cases nationally make up 29 percent of federal judges’ criminal dockets, according to the US Sentencing Commission, they make up more than 56 percent of mine. More startling, while meth cases make up 18 percent of a judge’s drug docket nationally, they account for 78 percent of mine. Add crack cocaine and together they account for 87 percent.

Crack defendants are almost always poor African-Americans. Meth defendants are generally lower-income whites. More than 80 percent of the 4,546 meth defendants sentenced in federal courts in 2010 received a mandatory minimum sentence. These small-time addicts are apprehended not through high-tech wiretaps or sophisticated undercover stings but by common traffic stops for things like nonfunctioning taillights. Or they’re caught in a search of the logs at a local Walmart to see who is buying unusually large amounts of nonprescription cold medicine. They are the low-hanging fruit of the drug war. Other than their crippling meth addiction, they are very much like the folks I grew up with. Virtually all are charged with federal drug trafficking conspiracies—which sounds ominous but is based on something as simple as two people agreeing to purchase pseudoephedrine and cook it into meth. They don’t even have to succeed.

I recently sentenced a group of more than twenty defendants on meth trafficking conspiracy charges. All of them pled guilty. Eighteen were “pill smurfers,” as federal prosecutors put it, meaning their role amounted to regularly buying and delivering cold medicine to meth cookers in exchange for very small, low-grade quantities to feed their severe addictions. Most were unemployed or underemployed. Several were single mothers. They did not sell or directly distribute meth; there were no hoards of cash, guns or countersurveillance equipment. Yet all of them faced mandatory minimum sentences of sixty or 120 months. One meth-addicted mother faced a 240-month sentence because a prior meth conviction in county court doubled her mandatory minimum. She will likely serve all twenty years; in the federal system, there is no parole, and one serves an entire sentence minus a maximum of a 15 percent reduction rewarded for “good time.”

Several years ago, I started visiting inmates I had sentenced in prison. It is deeply inspiring to see the positive changes most have made. Some definitely needed the wake-up call of a prison cell, but very few need more than two or three years behind bars. These men and women need intensive drug treatment, and most of the inmates I visit are working hard to turn their lives around. They are shocked—and glad—to see me, and it’s important to them that people outside prison care about their progress. For far too many, I am their only visitor.

If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them. But there is no evidence that they do. I have seen how they leave hundreds of thousands of young children parentless and thousands of aging, infirm and dying parents childless. They destroy families and mightily fuel the cycle of poverty and addiction. In fact, I have been at this so long, I am now sentencing the grown children of people I long ago sent to prison.

For years I have debriefed jurors after their verdicts. Northwest Iowa is one of the most conservative regions in the country, and these are people who, for the most part, think judges are too soft on crime. Yet, for all the times I’ve asked jurors after a drug conviction what they think a fair sentence would be, never has one given a figure even close to the mandatory minimum. It is always far lower. Like people who dislike Congress but like their Congress member, these jurors think the criminal justice system coddles criminals in the abstract—but when confronted by a real live defendant, even a “drug trafficker,” they never find a mandatory minimum sentence to be a just sentence.

Many people across the political spectrum have spoken out against the insanity of mandatory minimums. These include our past three presidents, as well as Supreme Court Justices William Rehnquist, whom nobody could dismiss as “soft on crime,” and Anthony Kennedy, who told the American Bar Association in 2003, “I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences.” In 2005, four former attorneys general, a former FBI director and dozens of former federal prosecutors, judges and Justice Department officials filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court opposing the use of mandatory minimums in a case involving a marijuana defendant facing a fifty-five-year sentence. In 2008, The Christian Science Monitor reported that 60 percent of Americans opposed mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders. And in a 2010 survey of federal district court judges, 62 percent said mandatory minimums were too harsh.

Federal judges have a longstanding culture of not speaking out on issues of public concern. I am breaking with this tradition not because I am eager to but because the daily grist of what I do compels me to. In 1999, Judge Robert Pratt of the Southern District of Iowa, a courageous jurist whose brilliant opinion in Gall v. United States led to one of the most important Supreme Court sentencing opinions in my professional life, wrote a guest editorial in The Des Moines Register criticizing federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums. He ended by asking, “If we don’t speak up, who will?” I hope more of my colleagues will speak up, regardless of their position on the fairness of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. This is an issue of grave national consequence. Might there be a problem when the United States of America incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any nation in the world?”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


U.S. Sentencing Commission Promulgates Amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Responding to the Dodd-Frank Act

April 13, 2012

U.S. Sentencing Commission on April 13, 2012 released the following:

U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION PROMULGATES AMENDMENT TO THE FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES RESPONDING TO THE DODD-FRANK ACT

Also promulgates amendments regarding human rights, drug, and other offenses

WASHINGTON, D.C.― Today the United States Sentencing Commission promulgated amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines responding to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) regarding securities fraud, mortgage fraud, human rights offenses, drug offenses, and other offenses.

The Dodd-Frank Act contained directives to the Commission to review the fraud guideline with respect to securities fraud, fraud on financial institutions, and mortgage fraud. Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission, noted “Fraud offenses represent almost ten percent of the federal criminal docket annually, and have been the focus of congressional attention as evidenced by the directives to the Commission.” Judge Saris explained, “The Commission’s action today increases penalties for insider trading cases and ensures that no defendant will receive a reduced penalty because of a federal intervention, such as a bailout. The Commission also adopted presumptive rules governing the calculation of loss in mortgage and securities fraud cases.”

“This is the first step in a multi-year review of the fraud guideline,” stated Judge Saris. “We have received feedback from a number of stakeholders that broader review of the operation of the fraud guideline should be undertaken. Specifically, we have heard from the courts, defense attorneys, and prosecutors that the interaction of the loss attributed to an offense and the number of victims in an offense (the loss and victims tables in the guidelines), particularly in high-loss fraud cases, may result in disproportionate or disparate sentences. This is an area of the guidelines that the Commission must continue to review in a comprehensive manner.” More than 30 other federal sentencing guidelines (such as those covering money laundering, public corruption and identity theft offenses) either reference the fraud guideline or have a proportional relationship with it. Therefore, any change to the loss or victims calculations in the fraud guidelines must be undertaken comprehensively.

The Commission also promulgated an amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines to cover substantive human rights violations. First, the Commission promulgated new sentencing enhancements that would apply to a defendant convicted of committing a serious human rights offense, including genocide, torture, war crimes, and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. Second, the Commission promulgated an amendment to the guideline covering immigration offenses to provide a penalty enhancement if a defendant committed the instant offense to conceal or attempt to conceal their role in a serious human rights offense. “These amendments will ensure appropriate penalties for those who commit serious human rights offenses,” explained Judge Saris. “Human rights violations are an important issue to Congress and the Commission shares this concern.”

The Commission also promulgated an amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines to address the growing number of federal drug cases involving the stimulant “BZP.” BZP is a Schedule I stimulant used both alone and in combination with other chemicals to produce effects that mimic those of the drug “Ecstasy,” and promoted as such to the youth population, particularly for use during all night “raves.” The proposed amendment adds BZP to the list of chemicals covered by the federal sentencing guidelines in a manner consistent with available scientific literature. Judge Saris noted, “The Second Circuit Court of Appeals brought this important matter to our attention. The Commission is pleased to have addressed concerns about the growing prevalence of this drug in the Second Circuit and elsewhere by providing appropriate coverage under the federal sentencing guidelines.” The Commission also promulgated an amendment that provides a sentence reduction under the guidelines for certain low-level, non-violent offenders convicted of offenses involving precursor chemicals, which parallels provisions already in the federal sentencing guidelines for low-level, non-violent drug offenders who meet certain criteria.

The Commission also resolved a circuit conflict by confirming that for purposes of calculating a defendant’s criminal history under the federal sentencing guidelines, driving while intoxicated, driving under the influence and similar offenses are, without exception, always counted. The Commission’s actions today also resulted in amendments to the guidelines covering contraband cell phones in prison, cigarette offenses, trafficking in fake Indian goods, and animal crush videos.

The Commission must submit its 2011-2012 amendment package to Congress by May 1, 2012. Congress has 180-days to review the amendments submitted by the Commission. The amendments have a designated effective date of November 1, 2012, unless Congress affirmatively acts to modify or disapprove them.

More information on the amendments promulgated today may be found on the Commission’s website, http://www.ussc.gov.

The United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop national sentencing policy. The resulting federal sentencing guidelines provide the starting point for the court’s consideration of a sentence and help ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


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