January 27, 2008
Viginia is (not) for (crack) lovers
This new article from US News & World Report, headlined "Releasing Crack Convicts Early: The first batch of convicted crack cocaine dealers will getting out this year, and Virginia will feel the brunt," spotlights the local quality of the (purportedly uniform) federal sentencing system. Here are snippets:
[N]o place in the country will feel the impact of the [crack guideline] changes more than the Eastern District of Virginia, which has 7 percent — 1,404 cases — of the nation's 19,500 individuals impacted by the new guidelines. That is nearly double the amount in the next highest areas, the middle district of Florida and the district of South Carolina.
How this stretch of Virginia, which runs from the border of Washington, D.C., through Richmond and Norfolk, came to host more most federal crack cocaine cases than any other district has little to do with the prevalence of drug trafficking. Rather, the disproportionate share of affected individuals serves as an example of how the politics of criminal justice is always local....
Frustrated that local prosecutors treated crack cases as only misdemeanors, the U.S. Attorney's office began working with local law enforcement to prosecute them on the federal level, where mandatory minimum sentences make jail time much longer.... The choice to prosecute under federal law angered some federal judges and defense attorneys who felt smaller dealers overburdened the federal system....
The result was soon clear. By 1993, the Eastern District of Virginia had the fourth-highest number of crack cocaine cases in the nation, then 114.... It's a pattern hardly unchanged to this day. In 2006, the Eastern District of Virginia topped the nation in crack cocaine prosecutions with 253 — a sign that crack dealers will continue to face heavy enforcement in the region. And Chuck Rosenberg, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia has no regrets. "It's a federal crime, so I don't apologize for prosecuting it."
January 27, 2008 at 08:33 PM | Permalink
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As much as I like incarceration statistics (because I think 35% of the country should be in jail as we will be safer), and I want maximum employment for prosecutors), I think the title of your post is quite funny.
Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 28, 2008 9:25:26 AM
Ironically, the reason why many local prosecutors were relunctant to prosecute drug cases is that Virginia's state drug laws are so draconian (other than marijuana, simple possession of most illegal drugs is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, first offense of dealing drugs is punishable by 5 to 40 years in prison, subsequent offenses can be punished by up to life in prison with no possibility of parole and there is a mandatory minimum of three years per count - a first time drug offender (sale or possession with intent) is likely to get more time in prison than a first time robbery or buglary/grand larceny offender) - even people with simple possession often get jail time (and as noted, could get up to 10 years in prison) even with minimal criminal records).
Many Virginia prosecutors will accept possession pleas for low level drug dealers to try to lessen the heavy punishment drug dealers get under Virginia law - a cruel twist of fate that some prosecutors' decision to try to lessen the burden of state laws that are too strict (as noted, low level drug dealers are routinely sentenced to more time than people who commit much more serious crimes like robbery or buglary, both considered "violent" offenses in in Virginia) is to get the feds to apply even stricter laws.
BTW, if you want to see a really out of line law, in Virginia simple possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail (which is really 15 days since in Virginia one serves 50% of misedemeanor time). Simple possession of most other category I or II controlled substances is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In the 1970s, Virginia came really close (just a couple of votes in the General Assembly) to legalizing simple possession of marijuana.
Also note that not all prosecutors in Virginia take it easy on drug offenders - some will purposely load up on county (especially in snitch cases where the snitch buys rocks of crack from a dealer multiple times and each time is a separate count with a three year mandatory minimum). Others will never lower possession with intent or sale charges to simple possession. Of course, that is what local control leads - and if you care about local control, one should be outraged how the feds are prosecuting local crimes in a matter disapproved by the voters of some jurisdictions (especially heavily minority jurisdictions like Richmond, Hampton, and Norfolk).
Posted by: Zack | Jan 29, 2008 2:31:21 PM
oh, another thing that people who do not live in Virginia may not be aware of is that in Virginia, the cities are indepedent of the counties and have their own elected officials (the Constitutional Officials) - thus, the urban voters do not have their voting strength diluted by the suburban voters when it comes to electing local officials like the Commonwealth's Attorney. That also plays a role, because Virginia is one of the few places in the United States where you have Commonwealth's Attorneys who solely represent urban areas and thus have views reflecting those of urban voters (who tend to view drug penalities as being too severe).
Posted by: Zack | Jan 29, 2008 2:40:59 PM
I'm very much interested in gaining more infofrom you and your sources. I'm a convicted felon from the state of Va. Educated at Hampton Unv. and Unv. of Penn. Can never practice law. But I can make a differnce. I'm in the process of starting my own non-profit org. I'm doing research for Due Process Inst. I have a major meeting at the end of the month with hthe President. I'd to know if you could send me some info on Va court system, Violation, the public defenders office, etc. please feel free to call to support our cause. Because when it is all in done this is big business and the minorities suffer, because the lack of money for the proper defense. So, they end up in the system because the public defenders have no fight in them on your behalf. And in Va. you pay for that. Please feel free to call. Thank You. L. Copeland
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