SELECT A
CATEGORY
NEXT ARTICLE PREVIOUS ARTICLE

News

SUBMIT AN ARTICLE BACK TO OVERVIEW

FLEOA Letter to Judiciary -Sentencing Reform

October 19, 2015

 

The Honorable Chuck Grassley
Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
152 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

  

Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy and Members of the Committee,

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) –the nation’s largest professional, non-profit association representing federal law enforcement officers – has serious concerns with several provisions contained within S. 2123,the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

While FLEOA understands that this bill is bi-partisan and much thought was given to its construction, we strongly believe that the basis for the bill is based upon misperceptions and a politically motivated contingent of activists that seeks to decriminalize drug offenses across the legal spectrum. They have appeared to gain momentum after successes in states such as California which recently released over 25,000 criminals and drug offenders due to an expansive lowering of sentencing standards and the retro active replacement of sentences for those convicted of certain offenses. The Federal Sentencing Commission has also revised its sentencing standards allowing for 6,000 drug offenders to benefit from early release. These experiments in sentencing and judicial reform will have a result that is yet to be seen, yet those involved int his advocacy have created a convincing argument that wraps itself around saving the government money by reducing the federal prison population for alleged "low level drug offenders.”

While these activists report that sentencing reform will reduce crime,the truth is that many corners of our nation are experiencing a violent crime surge this year,with the number of murders jumping by 33% or more in Baltimore, New Orleans and St. Louis. Chicago has seen a 19% increase in homicides and 21% increase in shootings, and in Philadelphia murders are up to 123 thus far this year, compared with 117 at the same point last year. According to police department statistics, Dallas has tallied 68 murders so far, up from 53 in 2014. San Antonio counted 53 homicides through June, compared with 43 last year. Minneapolis had 22 murders in the first half of 2015, compared with 15 during the same period last year. Milwaukee has shown a 103% spike in murders year-to-date compared with a year ago. In Atlanta, 41 people were killed in the first five months of this year compared with 27 in the same period last year, an increase of 52% and in Washington, D.C.,the homicide count stands at 73 compared with 62 last year.

Police and politicians in the nation's capital have connected the spike in murders to the influx of synthetic drugs, including K2, spice and others which are said to mimic the effects of marijuana.

For law enforcement, crimes related to drugs including rapes,robberies and shootings continue to be the most common incidents they encounter. Every drug offense can unfortunately be a gateway to more serious crimes – the most serious of which end up in the federal system due to the stringent sentencing guidelines that have made the federal judicial system feared by criminals and admired by law enforcement for decades.It is the one system where law enforcement sees justice inaction and criminals usually face a choice – either cooperate or face a harsh sentence.

The federal judicial system is geared toward dealing with the worst of the worst – not a person with a dime bag of marijuana.In most federal jurisdictions, it takes as much as 100 pounds of marijuana before a federal prosecutor would even consider prosecuting that case. Even at that amount, more than for personal use, the punishments are often in months not years.

Unfortunately, the latest iteration of sentencing reform may undercut the very foundation that has made the federal system successful and stand out from almost every state system of justice and much of it is based upon myth not fact.

Myth: The federal system discriminates with sentences and crimes charged.

Fact: According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons(BOP) Inmate Statistics, the federal inmate breakdown is:

 

Asian

3,138

1.5%

Black

77,455

37.7%

Native American

3,938

1.9%

White

120,977

58.9%

 

Myth: The federal system keeps people incarcerated for inordinate periods of time.

Fact: According to the BOP, the bulk of federal prisoners are serving sentences of 15 years of less.

 

Less than 1 year

5,592

2.3 %

1-3 years

22,185

11.4%

3-5 years

25,861

13.3%

5-10 years

49,398

25.5%

10-15 years

39,579

20.4%

15-20 years

21,663

11.2%

More than 20 years

24,106

12.4%

Life

5,387

2.8%

Death

57

0.0%

 

Myth: Federal prisons contain many low level drug offenders.

Fact: A search of BOP inmate records shows no prisoner incarcerated for possession of a "dime” bag of marijuana. The majority of the drug offenders in federal prison were trafficking in narcotics, including many captured at the border,which makes them illegal and exclusive federal offenders.

Myth: Sentencing reform will only apply to low level and non-violent drug offenders.

Fact: Two recent cases, one from Iowa and the other from Vermont might be eligible under S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, for reduced sentences and be on the streets in those states after only a few short months.

Iowa:

On October 8th,2015, in the Northern District of Iowa,Wayne Christopher Watkins who worked at ahead shop in Iowa City pled guilty to federal drug charges in federal court in Cedar Rapids. Wayne Christopher Watkins, age 40, from Peoria, Illinois, was convicted of conspiring to manufacture and distribute a synthetic drug called AB-FUBINACA. The owner of Pipe Dreamz in Iowa City, Robert Carl Sharp, pled guilty on October 5, 2015. In a plea agreement, Watkins admitted that Sharp was released from federal prison in 2012, and shortly thereafter began selling, and later manufacturing, smokable synthetic cannabinoid products which are commonly known as "Spice,” "incense,” or K2. Watkins initially worked for

Sharp at a store in Peoria, Illinois, called Smoke N Ink. Both men moved to Iowa in 2013 when Sharp opened a head shop in Iowa City called Pipe Dreamz. Sharp would order synthetic cannabinoid chemicals and also purchase bulk quantities of dried Damiana leaves, a plant material that resembles dried marijuana. Watkins admitted Sharp would purchase synthetic cannabinoid chemicals,packaging materials, and inert plant material (typically Damiana leaf), from various suppliers and then Sharp and defendant would manufacture synthetic cannabinoid products from the materials. Watkins admitted he would dilute the synthetic cannabinoid chemical in acetone, and then spray the mixture onto the Damiana leaves. Watkins would then add some flavoring and package the substances into the various brands sold by Sharp.

Watkins and Sharp sold these products in packets that marketed the substances as incense, and contained a warning that the products were "not for human consumption,”although both men admitted they knew the products were actually intended for human consumption. The synthetic cannabinoids in these products were actually research chemicals that have not been tested or approved as safe for human consumption, and which have unpredictable short-term effects and unknown long-term effects on users.

Sentencing before United States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade will beset after a presentence report is prepared. Watkins remains in the custody of the United States Marshals pending sentencing. Watkins faces a possible maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment, a $1,000,000 fine, $100 in special assessments,and a lifetime of supervised release following any imprisonment.

Vermont:

In Vermont, Eric S. Miller, United States Attorney for the District of Vermont, stated that Tyrone Dixon, 35, of St. Augustine, Florida, was sentenced Tuesday in United States District Court in Rutland by U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford,to18 months in prison followed by three years of post-release supervision,for possession with intent to distribute approximately 50 grams of crack cocaine. According to court records, in the early morning of January 5, a Customs and Border Protection Officer stationed at the Derby Line Port of Entry noticed a vehicle making an illegal U-turn in between the ports of entry for the United States and Canada. The car had traveled north towards Canada but turned back before attempting entry into Canada.Customs and Border Protection Officers worked with Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations to inspect the vehicle and conduct interviews with driver Tyrone Dixon and passenger Emily Lasell of Vermont. From the vehicle, a Customs and Border Protection Officer recovered a hollowed-out loaf of bread concealing approximately 50 grams of crack cocaine, some of which was already packaged for distribution,re-wrapped inside a plastic bread bag, and concealed inside a bag of otherwise innocuous groceries. A Customs and Border Protections Officer also recovered five syringes that appeared to have been used and approximately twenty-five used or torn white packages consistent with the packaging commonly seen in the hero in trade. From inside the passenger’s bra, a Customs and Border Protection Officer recovered two small packages commonly known as "tickets” of heroin.

Thomas Keith,42 was also convicted of drug distribution by the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont and was sentenced to 41 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Keith also forfeited $1,084 in connection with his drug distribution activities. This sentence followed Keith’s conviction on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine, and one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin. U.S. District Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford also ordered Keith to pay a $200 special assessment.In 2011, law enforcement intercepted a package addressed to Keith that contained approximately 367 grams of cocaine and 80 grams of heroin. Subsequently, as part of a Vermont Drug Task Force investigation, law enforcement conducted three controlled purchases of heroin from Keith in April and May 2014. Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Keith’s Bennington residence on May 16, 2014, finding 75 bags of heroin, drug paraphernalia, and $1,084 in cash.

These are the types of "low level drug offenders” that could benefit from the provisions in S.2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.We are sure that Members of the

Committee would agree that the above individuals crimes above are destructive, their sentences not disproportionate for their crimes and that they should serve the maximum duration the federal system allows and not be allowed to benefit from sentencing reform and recidivise on the streets of Iowa or Vermont.

FLEOA requests that the Committee consider the long term implications of these types of sentencing changes and recall the story of the "wolf in sheep’s clothing” and that rash response to political activists often have unintended consequences.

Respectfully yours,

 

Nathan R. Catura

FLEOA National President

c.c.Members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary