Time Out for Justice
Why talking about drugs IS worse than murder
by James Bovard
İPlayboy Magazine, December 1997
Politicians in Washington are demanding a new crackdown onand
harsher penalties forcocaine users, among other narcotics violators.
Yet before the nation embarks on drug war number 327, we should
stop and examine what our political ruling class has already achieved.
The files of the November Coalition, Families Against Mandatory
Minimums and various media accounts are filled with horror stories.
It is worthwhile to compare sentences that are given to drug offenders
with those received by murderers, rapists, child molesters, armed
robbers and other victims of difficult childhoods.
Jose Tapia, along with a friend, carried out "the largest
mass murder in Rhode Island history," according to Providence
prosecutors in 1996. Tapia and his buddy intentionally set fire
to the home of a family of Guatemalan immigrants. Six people (including
four children) died in the flames. (Typically, the criminals were
both evil and stupid: Tapia and his friend were trying to torch
someone else's home but got confused.) Tapia received a sentence
that will make him eligible for parole in 21 years. By contrast,
Kyle Lindquist, a 36-year-old excavating contractor and father
of three, was busted in 1992 on conspiracy charges of intent to
possess and distribute 1000 kilos or more of marijuana. Lindquist
got a sentence of 23 years with no possibility of parole. Apparently,
conspiring to hustle some weed is worse than burning down a house
full of children.
Rodney Kelley murdered two brothers in 1991 near a New Orleans
freeway overpass, shooting each in the head and robbing the corpses.
The police caught Kelley but then prosecutors allowed him to plead
guilty to man slaughter, which meant an eight year sentenceand
eligibility for parole after only four years. By contrast, Will
Foster, a 38-year-old software programmer and father of three,
grew marijuana in his basement to treat his severe rheumatoid
arthritis. Based on a bogus tip from a supposed "confidential
informant" that Foster was selling methamphetamine, police
raided his home. While no methamphetamine was found, police did
find about 70 marijuana plants, many of which were seedlings.
Because Foster was a first time offender, the judge let him off
with a 93-year sentence.
William Edward Neusteter used a handgun to rob a 7 Eleven and
several of its customers in Denver in 1995. District judge R.
Michael Mullins sentenced Neusteter, the son of a prominent local
businessman, to five years' probation. Similarly, a Los Angeles
County sheriff's deputy who went berserk and began shooting at
kids who were spray painting graffiti, and who engaged in a high
speed chase and then lied about the circumstances, was convicted
of "assault with a firearm, gross negligent discharge of
a firearm, shooting from a vehicle and filing a false report."
Sheriff's Deputy Bobby Rodriguez could have faced 14 years in
prison, but he received five years' probation. By contrast, Amy
Marie Kacsor and many other luckless individuals have had five
years added to their federal prison sentences merely because firearms
were found in their homes by police searching for illicit substances.
Kacsor, a 26-year-old Michigan resident, was busted for growing
marijuana in her basement. The police searched her house and found
two registered handguns owned by her mother, as well as two hunting
rifles owned by Kacsor's boyfriend. Federal judge Stewart Newblatt
denounced the additional sentencing as vicious.
In July 1995 Anthony Brown and his brother beat and raped a woman
in Atlanta within days of Anthony's release from prison on armed
robbery charges. Brown pleaded guilty to rape and received a one
year prison sentence. Under the state mandatory sentencing law,
he should have received life in prison as a repeat violent offender,
but prosecutors decided to be nice. His brother, who also pleaded
guilty, was required to submit to five years of "intensive"
probation. By contrast, Todd Davidson, a 27-year-old Deadhead,
was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiracy
to possess LSD with intent to distribute. A friend with whom he
shared a motel room sold some acid to federal agents. Davidson
was caught in the same net, and he was found guilty partly on
the basis of a re mark made prior to the sale.
Daniel Green received a six year sentence after using an ax to
smash the skull of a 17-year-old boy and almost killing him (the
victim was in a coma for three months and suffered permanent brain
damage). North Carolina prison officials were beneficent and set
Green free after he had served just a third of his sentence. Two
months after he was paroled, Green and Larry Demery murdered Michael
Jordan's father, James, and stole his Lexus. By contrast, Christopher
Sia was initially sentenced to 24 years in federal prison after
he was set up by an undercover federal agent. Sia's sentence was
determined by a peculiar guideline that bases LSD penalties on
the weight of the drug and its "carrier medium"in
this case blotter paper and a liquid solvent. Despite a modification
in the sentencing guidelines, LSD offenders continue to receive
disproportionately severe sentences.
Edwin "Fast Eddie" McBirney received a five year sentence
for fraudulent practices (such as using federally insured deposits
to pay for sex parties) that wrecked his Texas savings and loan
and cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $70 million. McBirney, served
slightly more than half of his sentence. By contrast, Kelly Hackett,
a 29 year old Ohio resident, got a five year sentence after a
"friend" (who turned out to be a government informant)
brought an undercover agent to her house. They wanted to buy some
crack. Hackett called an acquaintance, who sold them 5.4 grams
of crack. Four months later, Hackett was arrested. Thousands of
Americans are serving five years in federal prison (with no parole)
after being apprehended in possession of less than two pennies'
weight of crack-a mere five grams. Thanks to propagandists of
the drug war, crack holds a special place on the political demonology
honor roll of the late 20th century. First offenders who have
never even been caught jaywalking automatically receive five years
in prison, thereby making reelection campaigns safe for incumbent
Elmer Tate of Warwick, Rhode Island admitted guilt in three separate
child molestation cases, in 1992, 1994 and 1996. Yet each time,
local judges awarded him a suspended sentence. Apparently, the
molesting of children may or may not deserve punishment, depending
on the whims of judges and prosecutors. By contrast, the mere
hearing of certain words is a hanging offense. Loren Pogue, a
middle aged real estate agent, got snared in 1990 because he agreed
to help a friend sell a plot of Costa Rican land. Because the
buyersundercover agents-mentioned that they intended to use
the mountainside as a landing strip for Colombian cocaine flights,
Pogue was convicted of conspiracy to import, possess and distribute
cocaine. Regardless of the absurdity of the scheme, the fact that
the word cocaine was mentioned at the closing of the real estate
deal earned Pogue 27 years.
The Reverend Richard Rossi Jr., pastor of the First Love Church
in Pittsburgh, was charged with attempted murder after his wife
identified him as the attacker who beat her nearly to death while
they were house hunting in a Pittsburgh suburb. In 1995 Rossi
was permitted to plead no contest to second degree aggravated
assault and served 96 days in jail. Upon his release he announced
he was writing two screenplays. By contrast, Donald Clark, a farmer
in Manatee County, Florida, was caught with 900 marijuana plants
by state officials in the mid Eighties. After serving time in
a Florida state prison, he assumed his debt to society was paid.
But in 1988 federal prosecutors decided to pursue conspiracy charges
against Clark. As the St. Petersburg Times noted, "Since
he was charged under federal racketeering laws, he was considered
responsible for every seedling ever grown in Manatee County during
the Eighties. That added up to a million plants." He received
life without the chance of parole.
The average murderer serves eight years in prison. According to
Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, many people
have been sentenced to ten years or longer merely for "conspiracy"
via indiscreet discussions with federal informants"dry
cases," in which no illicit drugs are directly linked to
the defendant. With our current moral-judicial system, talking
about drugs disapproved of by politicians is a worse crime than
killing citizens. In one five year period beginning in 1986 the
average prison sentence for drug offenses nearly tripled (from
27 months to 78 months). The number of people in federal and state
prisons on drug charges has increased tenfold since 1980; since
1987, drug defendants have accounted for nearly three quarters
of all new federal prisoners.
Under federal sentencing guide lines, a person is entitled to
the same five year prison ticket for possession of five grams
of crack that he would receive for embezzling between $10 million
and $20 million from a bankor for using a threat of violence
to extort between $2.5 million and $5 million from someone, or
for kidnapping someone and seriously injuring the victim. Obviously,
crack is terrible stuff.
Politicians seek to portray drug users and dealers as incurably
heinous, yet they ignore the fact that three quarters of people
sentenced to state prisons on drug charges have no history of
criminal violence. Last year, the number of people sentenced to
prison for drug crimes significantly exceeded the number of people
sentenced for violent crimes. At a time when most big cities have
a record number of unsolved murders on the books, more than 19,000
state and local law enforcement officials are assigned to the
drug war on a full-time basis.
Florida State University economists Bruce Benson and David Rasmussen
looked at the situation and concluded that cracking down on drugs
unintentionally fosters theft, burglary and other property crimes
because law enforcement resources are diverted. Their study notes
that between 1982 and 1987, when Florida police focused on drug
law enforcement, drug arrests rose 90 percent, while total arrests
rose only 32 percent. Property crimes escalated, with robbery
rates rising 34 percent and auto thefts by 65 percent. As more
resources are allocated to fight drug crime, the chance of arrest
for property crime falls.
Politicians receive billions of dollars from citizens each year
to fund the criminal justice system and provide police protection.
But more than 5 million Americans were victims of violent crime
last year. The only explanation for lawmakers' obsession with
penalizing drug offenders while neglecting public safety is that
they are far more anxious to control us than to protect us. As
always, the lesson of political history is the same: Save us from