“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.


Drug crime sends first-time offender grandmom to prison for life

May 10, 2012

Houston Chronicle on May 10, 2012 released the following:

“Houstonian, who has no secrets to trade, is doing more time than drug lords
By Dane Schiller

FORT WORTH – The U.S. government didn’t offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off crime.

But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life – without parole.

“It is ridiculous,” said Castillo, who is a generation older than her cell mates, and is known as “grandma” at the prison here. “I am no one.”

Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses – men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.

The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences.

Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let’s Make A Deal.

“Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped,” declared Terry Nelson, who was a federal agent for over 30 years and is on the executive board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “They have the power, and if you don’t play the game, they’ll throw the book at you.”

Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and went to trial.

In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas – a region that reaches from Houston to the border – 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial, according to the U.S. government. Just 10 defendants were acquitted at trial, and 82 saw their cases dismissed.

The statistics are similar nationwide.

The latest case in point came this week with the negotiated surrender of a Colombian drug boss Javier Calle Serna, whom the United States accuses of shipping at least 30 tons of cocaine.

While how much time Calle will face is not known publicly, he likely studied other former players, including former Gulf Cartel lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen.

Cardenas once led one of Mexico’s most powerful syndicates and created the Zetas gang. He pleaded guilty in Houston and is to be released by 2025. He’ll be 57.

As the federal prison system has no parole, Castillo has no prospect of ever going home.

“Any reasonable person would look at this and say, ‘God, are you kidding?’ ” said attorney David Bires, who represented Castillo on an unsuccessful appeal. “It is not right.”

Castillo’s elderly mother in Mexico has not been told she’s serving life, and her toddler grandson thinks she’s in the hospital when he comes to visit her in prison.

Castillo is adamant about her innocence.

“Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent,” she said. “I don’t say I am perfect. I am not … but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this.”

At the urging of her boyfriend, Martin Ovalle, Castillo became partners with a smooth-talking Mexican resident who said he wanted to set up a Houston-based bus company.

But the buses were light on passengers and shuttled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States and millions of dollars back to Mexico. Her lawyers argued she was naive.

Castillo claims she didn’t know about the drug operation, but agents said she should have known something was wrong when quantities of money and drugs were repeatedly found on the coaches.

“After hearing all the evidence as presented from both the government and defense in this case, the jury found her guilty … ,” said Kenneth Magidson, chief prosecutor here.

Former federal prosecutor Mark W. White III said if Castillo had something to share, she might have benefited from a sentence reduction for cooperating.

“Information is a cooperating defendant’s stock in trade,” White said, “and if you don’t have any, … the chances are you won’t get a good deal.”

Castillo has faith that she’ll somehow, some day, go free. Her daily routine doesn’t vary: when she eats breakfast, when she works, when she exercises, and when she brushes her hair, which has gone from red-blond to black and gray. The gray gets respect in prison.

“I will leave here one day with my head held high,” she said. “I don’t feel like a bug or a cockroach. I am a human being, with my feet firmly on the ground.””

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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

————————————————————–

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.