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November 3, 2009

Where sports, tragedy and the origins of bad federal sentencing law converge

Without-Bias-Urbanworld-web I received via e-mail this reminder from the folks at FAMM to set my DVR to ESPN tonight in order to record a documentary on a sports story and personal tragedy that would become the back-story to the origins of bad federal sentencing law on cocaine and crack penalties:

FAMM's president Julie Stewart is featured in the film "Without Bias," which tells the now-legendary story of University of Maryland college basketball star Len Bias.  In 1986, Bias was drafted by the Boston Celtics.  Later that night, he died from a cocaine overdose while celebrating his success.  His untimely death rocked the nation and led to the creation of the mandatory minimum drug sentences that are still on the books today.  To learn more and see a preview of the film, visit ESPN's website here.

The sentencing details of how Bias's death impact federal sentencing legislation is captures in part in Chapter 6 of the US Sentencing Commission's 1995 report to Congress on cocaine policy:

A few weeks after Bias's death, on July 15, 1986, the United States Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing on crack cocaine.  During the debate, Len Bias's case was cited 11 times in connection with crack.  Eric Sterling, who for eight years served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee and played a significant staff role in the development of many provisions of the Drug Abuse Act of 1986, testified before the United States Sentencing Commission in 1993 that the "crack cocaine overdose death of NCAA basketball star Len Bias" was instrumental in the development of the federal crack cocaine laws.  During July 1986 alone, there were 74 evening news segments about crack cocaine, many fueled by the belief that Bias died of a crack overdose.

Not until a year later, during the trial of Brian Tribble who was accused of supplying Bias with the cocaine, did Terry Long, a University of Maryland basketball player who participated in the cocaine party that led to Bias's death, testify that he, Bias, Tribble, and another player snorted powder cocaine over a four-hour period. Tribble's testimony received limited coverage.

November 3, 2009 at 06:05 PM | Permalink


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Might I suggest that the real tragedy here was the young man's untimely death from the use of cocaine, not the legislative response to it.

If you want to avoid going to prison for using drugs, the answer is simple. Don't use them.

This would also be a good thing for your mental and physical health, but what are those trifling things compared to the opportunity to complain about the system?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 4, 2009 3:20:18 AM

Bill Otis is a complete idiot. Just because someone shouldn't do drugs, doesn't mean the legislative response isn't/wasn't wrong. IT WAS. God, I hate people so moronic they simplify things don't to "just don't do it". After all, that's worked SO WELL with abstinence programs - by the way, brought to you by the same morons who brought you mandatory sentencing & drug hysteria. Bill Oshit says it'd be a good thing "for your mental and physical health, but what are those trifling things compared to the opportunity to complain about the system?" Can you even dress yourself you moron? The comparison between doing drugs & being sentenced to 30 to life for doing them is NOT trivial - if you think you aren't harmed more by 30 yrs in San Quentin than you are by occasional pot or coke use, you are too stupid to live. I've had dozens of friends do occasional drugs off & on for 30 yrs. They are all still alive & working at good jobs. The junkies are a totally different story - not everyone doing pot becomes a junkie, not even everyone doing cocaine becomes a coke addict. But we're not talking about meth and you know it. The sentencing laws have overcrowded our prisons to the point that we are letting murderers out early just to leave room for cokeheads. To end this, I will tell you I'm a 50 year old govt employee who has never had a drink or drug in my entire life, not pot, not tobacco - nothing. But I'm able-brained enough to look around me & see that not everyone shares my viewpoint on doing drugs, some will try them at some point & again - the vast majority don't steal or kill anyone. People like you, who don't see the real danger to our society of antiquated crime solutions, ARE a danger to society. Far greater than any drug.

Posted by: Maralago | Jun 7, 2011 5:58:41 PM

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