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Miami Police Chief John Timoney Urges End to Fed Law Disparity Between Crack and Powdered Cocaine

Chief John F. Timoney

Chief John F. Timoney

BY JOHN F. TIMONEY
Miami Police Chief
For the Miami Herald
MIAMI — Most people in the criminal-justice system are aware of a problem with the federal laws governing sentences for cocaine offenses — penalties for crack-cocaine offenses are much stiffer than sentences for powder cocaine. This undermines trust in the criminal-justice system, and it has strong racial effects unhealthy to our society.

The federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created a mandatory five-year prison term for offenses involving five grams of crack. But an offender must have 100 times as much powder cocaine to trigger the same five-year sentence.

If I grab a guy carrying five grams of crack, less than a fifth of an ounce, I figure this is a low-level drug dealer, or maybe someone with a lot for his own consumption. If I arrest a guy with 500 grams of powder cocaine, more than a pound, I figure this is a trafficker. Yet the federal law set the same penalty for both.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, a panel that Congress created in 1984 to write sentencing guidelines for federal judges to make sentences fairer and more uniform, for years urged Congress to amend cocaine laws to reduce that 100-to-1 disparity.

In 2007, the Commission took some limited action to decrease the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses and made the changes retroactive. The Commission said the sentencing system for cocaine offenses had come under ”almost universal criticism” from judges, criminal-justice officials, academics and community
groups.

To Read More

Washington Post Editorial Page Urges Confirmation of Dawn Johnsen to Head Justice Dept. Office of Legal Counsel

Dawn Johnsen

Dawn Johnsen

Washington Post Editorial Page
WASHINGTON — HERE ARE some facts about Dawn E. Johnsen, President Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC): She is a graduate of Yale Law School, spent roughly five years as legal director of the abortion rights group now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America, worked for the next five in the Clinton administration’s OLC, has been a professor at the Indiana University School of Law since 1998 and has been an outspoken critic of the Bush Justice Department’s legal justification for harsh interrogation techniques. In other words, Ms. Johnsen is undoubtedly qualified for the position, and she should be confirmed.

Ms. Johnsen’s confirmation has been held up by Republicans concerned that she’s an “ideologue,” in the words of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). Ms. Johnsen’s nomination squeaked by on a party-line vote before the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been stalled for the past month amid filibuster threats from some Republicans.

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the fact that the Justice Department under President Bush was perhaps the most politicized in a generation — and that among the most warped sections of the Bush Justice Department was the OLC. It is nonetheless legitimate to ask whether Ms. Johnsen will behave as badly as some of her immediate predecessors.

To Read More

Justice Wants to End Disparity in Sentencing Between Crack and Powdered Cocaine

crack-cocaine-dea

This change has been a long time coming. The disparity in sentencing was a simple minded approach to a complicated issue that has plagued America’s inner cities where crack cocaine sales are most prevalent. There has to be a smarter approach to dealing with this problem that has lead to the deterioration of so many inner city neighborhoods and resulted in so many young people going off to prison. If the tougher sentences had worked, that would have been another story. But they haven’t. Time for a smarter approach.

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Justice Department officials yesterday endorsed for the first time a plan that would eliminate vast sentencing disparities between possession of powdered cocaine and rock cocaine, an inequity that civil rights groups say has affected poor and minority defendants disproportionately.

Lanny A. Breuer, the new chief of the criminal division, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that the Obama administration would support bills to equalize punishment for offenders convicted of possessing the drug in either form, fulfilling one of the president’s campaign pledges.

Breuer explicitly called on Congress to act this term to “completely eliminate” the sentencing disparity.

The issue has received attention from both political parties, but until now, top law enforcement officials have not backed legislative reforms, according to drug control analysts.

Sen. Specter’s Switch May Not Impact Appointments of Judges and U.S. Attorneys

When it comes to appointments of judges and U.S. Attorneys, not all that much may change simply because Sen. Arlen Specter has changed parties.  He often exercised independence and is likely to continue on that path.specter-front-page

David Ingram
Legal Times
WASHINGTON — Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party brings his new colleagues a little closer to controlling 60 seats in the Senate, but it’s not clear that the switch will have much of an effect on the fate of nominees for the federal bench and the Justice Department.

Lawyers and lobbyists who follow the Senate Judiciary Committee have long said that it’s difficult to predict how Specter will vote on nominees — even when he asks critical questions of them in confirmation hearings. On Tuesday the Pennsylvanian vowed not to change his approach.

“I will not be changing my own personal independence or my own approach to individual issues. I will not be an automatic 60th vote,” Specter told reporters, referring to the votes needed to invoke cloture and cut off Senate debate. He added later, “I have always agreed with John Kennedy that sometimes parties ask too much. And if the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not hesitate to disagree and vote my independent thinking.”

In fact, Specter provided a fresh example of that independence Tuesday, saying for the first time that he is “opposed” to the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to be assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel.

Her confirmation is a priority for the Democratic Party’s base, in part because the office has been at the center of the battle over interrogation policies.

For Full Story

Family Endures Pain of Missing ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson

Robert Levinson

Robert Levinson

Are Iranian officials hiding this man? That is the big question.

By Lisa J. Huriash
South Florida Sun Sentinel
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Every day, one of Robert Levinson’s seven children cries for him and turns to the others for emotional support.

“The rest of us will console the one who’s upset,” said Dan Levinson, 23, the oldest son. “Everybody takes turns breaking down about it. Everybody tries to stay strong for the others. It just gets to you. It’s been two years, it’s been very frustrating.”

In March 2007, Robert Levinson, of Coral Springs, disappeared from Kish Island, a Persian Gulf resort that is also a smuggling hub. His family said the retired FBI agent, who was working as a private investigator, traveled there for a cigarette smuggling case.

Since then, Christine Levinson has devoted her time and energy to finding her husband and bringing him home. She flew to Tehran to pass out fliers written in Farsi, and hired an attorney there to file paperwork urging the government to open an investigation. She also traveled to Washington, D.C., on a mission to get diplomatic support to pressure Iranian officials to cooperate.
For Full Story

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Three In Ft. Dix Terorrism Case Get Life Sentences

The defendants insist they are innocent. The government insists the defendants were planning a massacre. The judge was convinced of their guilt and expressed concern that they showed no remorse.

By Troy Graham
Philadelphia Inquirer
ftdix31 CAMDEN, N.J. — Three of the five men convicted of plotting a terrorist attack on Fort Dix were sentenced to life in prison yesterday, and two of them were given an additional 30 years for gun charges.

All three of the Duka brothers – Dritan, Eljvir and Shain – vociferously proclaimed their innocence before their sentences were announced.

At the end of his statement, Eljvir Duka, 25, turned toward his large family, seated in the gallery, and urged them to “be patient, don’t worry.”

“Being in prison and knowing you’re innocent is a great feeling in the sight of God,” he said. “The government knows what they did.”

District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler noted that the defendants showed no remorse for their actions, and said “a harsh, punitive sentence is necessary.”

For Full Story

Nevada Man Pleads Guilty to Sending Threatening E-Mails to Va. Tech Students

emailsThe Internet has opened up endless possibilities for deranged people. The upside is, law enforcement was able to intervene before something potentially horrific happened.

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
ROANOKE, Va. — A Nevada man pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to sending threatening e-mails to two Virginia Tech students in which he glorified Seung Hui Cho’s 2007 shooting rampage at the university.

Johnmarlo Balasta Napa, 28, idolized Cho, bought the same weapons Cho used in the shootings and then sent the threatening e-mails on the eve of the first anniversary of the day Cho killed 32 people and then himself, federal agents testified.

Bart McEntire, who worked on the case as a supervisory special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said after the hearing that agents believe that Napa was planning a school shooting when he was arrested.

The e-mails, sent from seunghuichorevenge@yahoo.com, included photographs of Cho depicted as a hero, parodies of the victims and a picture of Cho holding paper dolls with photos of the faces of the two students along with the people he killed. They also had excerpts of the manifesto Cho sent to a TV network before his shootings.

For Full Story

Civil Liberties Groups Express Concern Over New System to Uncover Potential Terrorism Plots

This new system is inviting concerns from civil liberty groups. The question is: Is there a way to strike up a balance between security concerns and citizen rights? We’ll see how this one plays out.aclu

By Eric Schmitt
New York Times
LOS ANGELES-– A growing number of big-city police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the country are embracing a new system to report suspicious activities that officials say could uncover terrorism plots but that civil liberties groups contend might violate individual rights.

Here and in nearly a dozen other cities, including Boston, Chicago and Miami, officers are filling out terror tip sheets if they run across activities in their routines that seem out of place, like someone buying police or firefighter uniforms, taking pictures of a power plant or espousing extremist views.

Ultimately, state and federal officials intend to have a nationwide reporting system in place by 2014, using a standardized system of codes for suspicious behaviors. It is the most ambitious effort since the Sept. 11 attacks to put in place a network of databases to comb for clues that might foretell acts of terrorism.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups warn that the program pioneered by the Los Angeles Police Department raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns.

For Full Story