From: (Sol Lightman)

8 May 1993

Yesterday at our last general meeting of the semester, Nancy Brown, the New England coordinator for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, spoke as a guest. Some of the things she had to say appalled me.

She began her speech by rattling off a list of sentences delivered under the Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines now in effect in this country. The list was just the tip of an iceberg, but even so, it contained several sentences which could only be described as utterly insane.

For those of you who are unaware of what Mandatory Minimum Sentencing is all about, I will briefly describe to you this system.

I have sitting on my desk a chart which Mrs. Brown gave me, along with other materials. On one axis is the severity of a criminal offense. On the other are what can be best thought of as the opposite of `brownie points' called Criminal History Points.

When a person is convicted of a crime in this country, their criminal history is examined and they are given criminal history points according to guidelines set forth by the federal government. Their offense is also assigned a severity rating by another set of guidelines.

A judge, when determining that person's sentence, does not need to use his own discretion, he just looks up the sentence on the chart and off they go to prison. In fact, the judge is not allowed to adjust the sentence on the chart downward.

Exceptions to this rule are afforded for the following reasons:

1) The defendant ratted out somebody else

2) The defendant must be hospitalized, or in-house detention is deemed adequate for this case (i.e. a handicapped person)

The entire attached document, which describes the Criminal History Point system is cleverly written to discourage the very thought of reduced sentences. 100% of the examples given which describe a situation where the sentences may be altered describe an increase in the sentence.

So what happens when a person is convicted of an offense which requires, say, a ten-year sentence, and they only deserve, say, two? They get ten. Period. End of case.

Now the system which I have described seems very logical at first glance -- applying a uniform sentence based on history and severity of offense -- which is probably why it has been in effect for so long. But let us take a look at what has happened during that period.

I was also supplied with the following statistics.

  • The US now has the highest incarceration rate in the ENTIRE WORLD. 425/100,000. Only the former Soviet Union and S. Africa come close.
  • From 1975 to 1990, the US prison population has more than quadrupled We now imprison people at a rate 4 times that of most European countries, with no noticeable effect on the crime rate.
  • The US now has 1.2 million people in jail or prison. In order to provide for our weekly influx of 2000 prisoners, we would have to build 4 new prisons a week, that's $billion/month
  • The cost to maintain our current prison population is $16 billion a year. Each prisoner costs $20,000 per year.
  • Corrections is the fastest growing public sector employment.
  • One out of every four African American males is in custody on any given day. This compares to 1 out of 16 for South Africa.
  • If we continue our present rate of prison population increase, 1/2 of our population will be in prison by 2053.

It is plain to me that this constitutes a problem.

Attorney General Janet Reno has called for a review of these guidelines.

If you would like to express your support for reformation of these guidelines and/or current drug laws and drug sentencing, the phone number of her office is: Office of Attorney General Janet Reno: 202-514-2000

Several federal circuit judges are refusing to hear drug cases in protest of the drug laws/mandatory sentencing.

In addition, one judge, Hon. Whitman Knapp of Manhattan has actually defied the mandatory minimum guidelines by delivering a reduced sentence. Several Congressmen are right now making motions to impeach him.

Please educate yourselves about these events and write to your local newspapers and other periodicals in support of these brave stands, and the above-proposed legislation.

Two groups you should consider joining are:

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Suite 200 South

Washington D.C. 20004

(I have addresses of the local branches.)

Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants

P.O. Box 2310

Washington, D.C. 20013-2310

202-842-1650 Ext. 320


Justice Mocked; The farce of mandatory minimum sentences.

By Colman McCarthy

A year ago Patricia Martorana, a 20-year-old woman I came to know and admire when she had been a gifted student leader at Vero Beach (Fla.) High School, was attending Valencia Community College in Orlando. She waited tables to earn tuition money. Her career plans included earning a degree to work for the Florida forestry department as a wildlife conservationist.

Today Martorana is caged in a federal prison in Marianna, Fla. She is three months into a two-year sentence after plea bargaining to a charge of conspiracy to distribute LSD.

I doubt if any member of Congress had Patricia Martorana or citizens like her in mind when the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed. Amendments that were a pitched response to get tough on drug offenders set mandatory minimum sentences. Judges were left with no sentencing options. The congressional intent was to cast a judicial net so wide and tight that, at last, drug lords and kingpins would be snared and given the stiff punishment they deserved. And members of Congress could champion themselves as winning the war on drugs.

They're winning all right - small. Patricia Martorana, whose case is not unusual, according to legislative and judicial groups that monitor the effects of mandatory minimums, was a nonviolent first offender. She did not deal, buy, sell or use drugs. Her "conspiracy" to distribute LSD, as detailed in the plea agreement with a federal prosecutor, was marginal and fleeting at best.

Last May, Martorana was phoned at home by an undercover agent posing as a buyer. He had been given her number by a high school friend of Martorana. The agent, along with a government informant who was cooperating to have time cut from his sentence from an earlier drug crime, was directed by Martorana to someone she knew at work who was a dealer. The agent paid him $1,340 for 1,000 dosage units of LSD.

Martorana was given $100 as a commission by her co-worker. In a stakeout of the young woman's apartment, surveillance agents learned it was there that the dealer transferred the LSD to Martorana's high school friend, who then sold it to the undercover agent outside.

For this role in a relatively minor drug deal set up by legal entrapment, and in a state teeming with violent and huge drug rings, a young college student is now a federal prisoner. When Martorana was sentenced in early November, a family member recalls, the judge expressed a sentiment of frustration routinely heard from the bench: the mandatory minimum sentencing law gave him no choice but imprisoning the student for two years. He was forbidden to consider that this was a nonviolent first offense or that Martorana's participation was small or that her mother recently died of cancer and her father is disabled. Probation, community service or counseling was out.

On Feb. 17, Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) introduced legislation calling for an end to mandatory minimums. He was responding to the increasing opposition to the restriction from the American Bar Association, judges in all 12 judicial circuits and the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Occasionally a jurist can no longer take it. In late 1990, a Reagan- appointed federal judge in San Diego resigned because of mandatory minimums: "They have destroyed the discretion of judges," J. Lawrence Irving said. "They are grossly unfair to the litigants. For the most part, the sentences are excessive, particularly for first- time offenders."

It works the other way, too, as in "guideline sentences." This is a process by which drug kingpins can bargain for lower sentences if they cooperate with prosecutors by fingering others in the ring. A mandatory sentence can be avoided by naming names. "The moral of this story," says Julie Stewart, director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a Washington advocacy group, "is that if you're going to get caught on a drug charge, be a kingpin. You can talk and get off lightly. It also means that those who have little or no information to bargain with get the hardest hit. They're the least guilty."

FAMM's files bulge with cases of citizens serving drug sentences of 5, 10 and 20 years without parole chances for first and often minor offenses.

Inside her Florida prison, Patricia Martorana sees the injustice up close: "There are women here serving 10 to 15 years on charges of drug conspiracy. They are doing more time than some murderers. I would say that over 50 percent of the women here are first offenders."

All are doing hard time, compliments of a simplistic law passed - and kept on the books - by an unthinking Congress. In addition to brutalizing the lives of people like Patricia Martorana, justice itself is mocked. Forced to obey mandatory minimums, judges can't judge. They can only process, stamping defendants as they pass by like slabs of meat on a judicial conveyor belt. If the 1986 law has had a measurable effect on drug deals, it's news to the judges.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Cannabis Reform Coalition

S.A.O. Box #2

415 Student Union Building

UMASS, Amherst MA 01003

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