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May 25, 2012

Mandatory minimums require federal drug defendant's sentence of life + five more years in prison

This local story out of Iowa, headlined "Waterloo man given life plus 5 years in prison for drug charges," provides an amusing example of the crazy kinds of sentences that can be required by federal mandatory minimum sentencing provisions.  Here are the details:

A eastern Iowa man convicted in a drug distribution ring received a life sentence, plus five years. A U.S. District Court judge sentenced 38-year-old Lawrence Johnson of Waterloo after a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to distribute heroin, distribution of heroin, possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of a firearm during a drug crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Assistant U.S. Attorney, Peter Deegan, says the sentence is unusual, but is based on the sentencing guidelines for the crimes. “Because Lawrence Johnson had multiple prior felony drug convictions, he was subject to a mandatory life sentence on the drug conspiracy count. In addition, he was convicted of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking offense, which also requires a consecutive sentence of five years. So he was ultimately sentence to a mandatory life sentence, plus an additional five years in prison,” Deegan explains.

Deegan says the heroin distribution ring involving Johnson was widespread. “Including Detroit, Memphis, Chicago and then Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. He would bring about 10 to 20 grams of heroin per trip from Chicago to Iowa, and then it was cut — so that for instance the tens grams would become 30 grams — and he was distributing it into quantities that would be broken down into two-gram bags,” Deegan says.

Deegan says Johnson was facing a very long time in prison even if he hadn’t been sentenced to life plus five years. “Because he was what we call a career offender under the United States sentencing guidelines, he was subject to a recommended range of 360 months or 30 years to life anyway,” Deegan says.

May 25, 2012 at 07:43 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Oh AUSA Peter Deegan! You must have some beef with that reporter. After you took the time to explain why you filed a 21 USC 851 Information formally alleging multiple prior convictions. And how this was not a requirement, but an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. And you explained why the facts of the cases made mandatory life the lowest term that could satisfy the purposes of sentencing at 18 USC 3553(a) and how the guy was so bad that anything less would be insufficient and therefore legally unreasonable. And then the reporter just bails on including all of that. That's obviously what happened. I'm sure that you, a fellow member of the court family, are not an asshole who would take purposeful action to ensure a mandatory life sentence and then be all "what do you want from me? It's just how the law works...."

The defendant really tempted fate going to trial, unless no plea offer had been made that would have mitigated the sentencing result. I wonder which came first: the chicken of a Government who would not offer any kind of plea deal, or the egg of a defendant unable to read the writing on the wall if he rejected a plea deal....

It is the inability or unwillingness of the press to more thoroughly explore and explain to the public how this system works that vexes me most.

DISCLAIMERS:

I do not work in Iowa.

Maybe this guy DID deserve it.

Posted by: USPO | May 25, 2012 10:46:13 AM

He went to trial on conspiracy charges. That says it all. Conspiracy is an easy and vague charge to prosecute. Exercising your right to trial will ensure a multifold sentence.

Posted by: beth | May 25, 2012 12:18:55 PM

Also relevant is that the judge here was Linda Reade of Postville / Rubashkin fame. She is possibly the most pro-prosecution judge in the federal judiciary.

Posted by: Anon | May 25, 2012 2:16:10 PM

Cedar Rapids Iowa is a hell hole to try and work with...The AUSAS' are super gung ho and of coarse Judge Reade, does the usual rubber robotic stamping of about anything the prosecutor wants.

USPO: AUSA Deegan is that big of an @sshole...Several others are as well.. This is the place where Prosecutorial Misconduct takes place and they hide behind the power of the federal government. Do a search, it was in this blog a few years back.

Then you have Judge Reade to wrestle with on counter arguments...She could care less what the defense has to say...She is still doing the role of a prosecutor, from the bench...They now have a $100 million new Federal building for the crew to prance around in now as well.. Thanks to Obama for putting the country back to work efforts.. The old building got flooded.. A farm type pole shed is more than they deserve.

Posted by: Abe | May 25, 2012 3:15:04 PM

"...a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to distribute heroin, distribution of heroin, possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of a firearm during a drug crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm."

A more dangerous character would be hard to conceive. It wouldn't make any difference, practically or morally, if he got life plus 500. If we can't recognize this guy as a person who needs a permanent vacation from civil society, we can't recognize anyone.

USPO --

"The defendant really tempted fate going to trial, unless no plea offer had been made that would have mitigated the sentencing result. I wonder which came first: the chicken of a Government who would not offer any kind of plea deal, or the egg of a defendant unable to read the writing on the wall if he rejected a plea deal...."

The more typical line you see among the commenters here is that the government is subverting Constitutional rights by offering pleas, and in doing so, is corruptly contributing to the disappearance of the only method -- trials -- the Framers designated for the resolution of felony charges.

The central meme of defense lawyering is to complain about the system, the better to avoid discussing the client's frolics. So whether it going to trial or getting (or not getting) a plea deal, the complaining will continue.

Let me tentatively suggest that the problem here is that Mr. Johnson wanted to make his living by being a permanent, armed heroin dealer. I see no reason to fret about his sentence -- it's not like he didn't earn it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 25, 2012 4:14:05 PM

hmm seems to me if this is even CLOSE to true!

"Cedar Rapids Iowa is a hell hole to try and work with...The AUSAS' are super gung ho and of coarse Judge Reade, does the usual rubber robotic stamping of about anything the prosecutor wants.

USPO: AUSA Deegan is that big of an @sshole...Several others are as well.. This is the place where Prosecutorial Misconduct takes place and they hide behind the power of the federal government. Do a search, it was in this blog a few years back."

Then just WHY is any defense attorney conspiring to go along with it. Walk in see and announce that you REFUSE to be part of a trial with TWO PROSECUTORS and then turn around and walk out with your client!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 25, 2012 10:59:34 PM

while I have little sympathy for drug dealers, since they are choosing to take these risks in order to make profits, I do not think the taxpayers are being properly served by putting this guy in prison for life and paying a very large amount each year to keep him there indefinitely, when he is somewhat low-level and will be easily replaced, anyway.

I think the taxpayers would be more then adequately served with 5-10 years followed by a longer period of supervised release. Supervised release is a lot cheaper and he would not be able to go back to his life of crime when he was on it.

Posted by: lawguy | May 26, 2012 11:33:26 AM

He had a gun. So what? Ted Nugent has guns. I suspect that Ted Nugent is more violent, and a greater threat to society than this guy.

As far as I can tell, this guy wasn't convicted of using a gun, harming anybody, or engaging in any violence.

Yet a life + sentence for this guy is fine and dandy with Bill Otis. It is disturbing that people who think like that have occupied positions of executive power within our government.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 26, 2012 12:59:52 PM

There are non-violent marijuana only offenders serving sentences of two life terms plus twenty. It should also be noted that these non-violent offenders are serving time in high security federal facilities. This is a waste of taxpayer money. I noticed that Jim Gormley said that he was also housed in a high security facility. Just what is the point?

Posted by: beth | May 26, 2012 6:41:14 PM

"A more dangerous character would be hard to conceive."

I'm included to think some mass murderer can be conceived that is more dangerous than one of a myriad of people part of the illegal drug trade.

Posted by: Joe | May 26, 2012 6:49:38 PM

Joe --

"Hard" does not mean "impossible."

Hey, look, if you want an armed heroin dealer living next to you, it's all yours. I don't. The guy has had his chances and is not interested in living anything approaching a normal, peaceful life. He made his choices. Too bad. I have no tears to shed.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 26, 2012 11:00:22 PM

CCDC --

"He had a gun. So what?"

CCDC encapsulates better than I ever could why the majority isn't buying, and will never buy, his (and others commenters') breezy, pro-crime agenda.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 26, 2012 11:05:54 PM

lawguy --

"Supervised release is a lot cheaper and he would not be able to go back to his life of crime when he was on it."

Do you think you're being a bit naive here? http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2012/05/will-someone-please-put-me-on-.html

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 27, 2012 2:50:24 PM

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