Monday, March 10, 2008

Sixty year sentence for low-level drug possession fills prison space needed for dangerous offenders

There are two primary causes for Texas prison overcrowding, and the Legislature's reforms last year only really addressed one of them: Too many probation and parole revocations, and too-long sentences for non-violent crimes, especially drug offenses.

For an example of the latter, look no further than a recent edition of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, where we read the story of a man who received a 60 year sentence for possession of 1.46 grams of meth and 2.93 grams of marijuana ("Meth possession nets convicted felon 60 years," March 6). Reported the paper:
Rickie Dawson York, who turned 39 on Tuesday, pleaded guilty to possessing 1.46 grams of meth on Oct. 16. A Smith County jury sentenced the Tyler man after 25 minutes of deliberation in 241st District Judge Jack Skeen Jr.'s court.

The third-degree felony, which carried a punishment range of two to 10 years in prison, was enhanced to a first-degree, with a possible sentence of 25 years to life in prison, because of his two prior felony convictions. York will have to serve 15 years before he is eligible for parole. ...

He possessed 1.46 grams of meth and 2.93 grams of marijuana, according to lab reports.

York, also known as Mark Burton, was convicted of delivering marijuana in Dallas County in 1996 and possessing a prohibited weapon in Smith County in 2006, for which he was on parole. Beginning in 1987, he has also has been convicted of theft, possession of a controlled substance, failure to identify/fugitive from justice, criminal mischief and theft by check.

Assistant Smith County District Attorney Zach Davis said York continued to commit offenses whenever he was released from jail or prison and will never change his behavior. The defendant testified he has had a drug problem for 21 years but, Davis said, he has never sought treatment for his addiction.

He asked the jury to sentence York to life in prison to send him a message to stop using and selling drugs and stealing from people.

Defense attorney Steven Comte said the punishment range was 25 years to life only because of York's criminal history, but that he has been punished and has served his sentences for all of his prior convictions.

"There is nothing about Mr. York's history that is violent and life should be reserved for the most heinous individuals out there," he said.
I find it difficult to imagine a prosecutor with a straight face asking for life imprisonment for this petty nonviolent offender, and more difficult still to understand how 12 sentient people in my hometown could agree a 60 year sentence was in order. He'll be eligible for parole after 15, but "eligible" doesn't mean that's when they let him out. In any event, at current costs, that means taxpayers will spend a quarter of a million (2008) dollars, minimum, and up to a million dollars to incarcerate this guy.

So the next time you hear Williamson County DA John Bradley complain in the press that the parole board has released some violent felon early, remember why they're doing it: Too many low-level, nonviolent offenders are serving long, mandatory sentences, taking up space needed to keep violent criminals there longer, especially since the state can't manage to staff the prisons we've got.

Actually proposing to reduce sentences for drug crime is almost a third rail in politics - a sure fire way to draw an opponent in the next cycle claiming you're soft on crime. But this would be a smart place to start. From a fiscal and safety perspective, it makes tremendous sense to reduce the highest penalties for drug possession from the first degree felony category (5-99 years) to a second degree felony (2-20). A corollary reform would be to disallow low-level possession charges to justify "habitual offender" status.

The long-term savings would be dramatic, and it's hard to argue from a public safety perspective that mere drug possession, with no commercial transaction or violence involved, should ever receive more than a 20 year sentence. But the change would reduce not just long-term incarceration costs but rising healthcare costs for older prisoners, which is the primary cost driver right now in prisons for health care. Every year 1.5% more people come into TDCJ, according to UTMB, but 14% more every year turn 55 years old, after which they have 5-6 times more medical visits than younger offenders.

Ironically, because of the way the Legislative Budget Board calculates its cost estimate for sentencing increases (and reductions, if there were such a thing) doesn't calculate far enough into the out years to capture the savings. But when you consider the savings from just this one example, a max sentence of 20 years would save taxpayers somewhere in the range of 2/3 of a million (2008) dollars. When you start to add up the number of drug users being convicted every year, at those costs, pretty soon it starts to add up to real money.

9 comments:

Ron in Houston said...

More tax dollars to feed and clothe someone with a drug problem. *Sigh*

Making The Walls Transparetn said...

The Texas justice system is trobled on many levels and in need of fixing. This is just a small example of the issues affecting the stste's justice/penal system. Anytime we hear of a arrest, trial or conviction we must ask ourself what are the chances that the defendant innocent.


Read below and you'll undrstand why:

“LAKEITH AMIR-SHARIF IS INNOCENT”

Trial: April 21, 2008
Dallas, Texas
Criminal District Court No. 05

http://youtube.com/watch?v=sXe40XLPGjk&feature=related

http://youtube.com/watch?v=8wYaOsCVRCI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrFifvU9WjQ&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4bmYb8JLQI

www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/pt/slideshows/2008/01/010308_exonerated



Making The Walls Transparent website:
www.angelfire.com/crazy4/texas/

http://www.angelfire.com/crazy4/texas/fakedrugsfakevictims.html

www.angelfire.com/crazy4/texas/taxpayerquestions.htm

State of Texas v. Lakeith Amir-Sharif

F0525061, F0559639, MA0521971,MA0425257



To find many of the answers as to why there was a Fake Drug Scandal in Dallas, and why 15 recently exonerated citizens were railroaded to prison, and why 400 plus others imprisoned citizens from Dallas County alone are claiming they were wrongful convicted and that DNA testing will prove their innocence, you need to look no further than the case of Lakeith Amir-Sharif and the many things MTWT, Justice Watch, Prison Legal News (PLN) and others have pointed out to the world via MTWT's website and other sources. Today, the wrongfully accused is Sharif, but tomorrow it could be you, or someone you know or care about.

For all those interested, a Public Records Request will verify everything that MTWT is saying regarding the case of Lakeith Amir-Sharif:


1. Thus far the prosecution of Lakeith Amir-Sharif has costed taxpayers over two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00). Why? This is not a murder case.

2.The allaged victim/witness, Cathy Jonette Hawkins is a vindictive, and heartbrokken ex-girlfriend who has committed perjury in her three criminal complaint affidavits, filed Nov. 23, 2004; Feb. 10, 2005 and Sept. 01, 2005. This same individual has given contradictory and inconsistent testimony about the alleged crimes. The DA's office has ignored all of this, why?

3.Police officers from the Farmers Branch Police Department committed perjury in their affidavits presented to the magistrate judge to obtain an arrest warrant for the alleged Stalking charge. in those affidavits the officers falsely claimed on numerous occassions that they had responded to calls to Ms. Hawkins place of employment and home regarding criminal acts perpetuated by Sharif.

There is "NO" police report on file that shows the Farmers Branch Police responded to Ms. Hawkins home, and only two reports can be found that they responded to her job. Only one of the dates given in their affidavits match the numerous dates given to they alleged when seeking the arrest warrant.

4. The Stalking charge is "statutorily invalid" and was known to be so by the Bill Hill administration when it was presented to the Grand Jury. The Texas Penal Code at sec. 42.07 requires two (2) reported incidents of stalking, yet there is "NO" two police report of stalking on file with either the Dallas or farmers Branch Police Departments. Why, was this charge ever processed and why are tax dollars still being used to prosecute this case?

5. For 16 1/2 months while Sharif sat in the Dallas County Jail, he was court-appointed two different attorneys and neither of these attorneys filed any motions on Sharif's behalf. These court-appointed attorneys also "NEVER":

a. Conducted any investigations, to prepare a defense.

b. Requested any subpoenas to obtain security footage available that could of proven that Sharif was not anywhere in the area at the time alleged in the Stalking complaint.

c. Requested any subpoenas to obtain telephone records, pawn store receipts, and other financial statements of the victim and Sharif, which would of discredited Ms. Hawkins claims that she had broken off her relationship and she was not intimately involved with Sharif after mid 2004 and all of 2005. Why hasn't the DA's office verified this?

5. Ms. Hawkins wrote a letter stating Sharif is "innocent". Why, has the judges, the DA's and even Sharif's court-appointed attorneys suppressed this evidence? Why hasn't a handwriting expert been sought if the letters authenticity is in question? Why hasn't Ms. hawkins herself been questioned about this letter if truth and justice is what these proceeding are actually about?

6. Sharif has been denied his Constitutional right to a speedy trial on a 2004 misdemeanor charge involving Ms. Hawkins. Why despite numerous request from Sharif has the judges and his court-appointed attorneys refused to grant him his day in court on this charge? He has more than enough time served, so why is the DA's office wasting tax dollars by prosecuting it?
7. Sharif was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon(to wit: a car) causing serious bodily injury. First, the alleged vicitm Ms. Hawkins suffered "NO" injuries, repeat "NO" injuries.
Next, Ms. Hawkins ran into Sharif with her car knocking him onto her hood and causing Sharif to have to be hospitalized. Why wasn't Ms. hawkins charged by the DA's office for this crime. After Ms.Hawkins assaulted Sharif, she alleges that Sharif hit her cars rear end when she abruptly slammed on brakes to avoid striking the exit gate at their apartment complex. Why is Sharif charged with a criminal offense?



There are many more red flags and unethical behind-the-scene activitives inn the case of Sharif. If we continue to deprive citizens of their legal and Constutioanl rights then we will be no better then the Nazi's. each of you receiving his email have a stake in the quality of our justice system and the perception that the nation and world has of the State of Texas.

Anonymous said...

You're right, eligible for parole does not mean parole.

TDCJ clings to the fiction that an inmate needs to create a good "parole package" indicating how they will succeed on parole.

The truth ishe board of Pardons and Paroles use statistics to make their decisions, not a parole packet and certainly not behavior during incarceration.

How in the world does Texas expect ex-convicts to lead a lawful lifestyle when the State itself sets a really bad example with their lies.

It is a crims that justice in Texas is a lottery that some have to loose so others may remain free.

Anonymous said...

as a prosecutor i handled a couple of similar jury trials. i typically offered 8 or 10 years in tdcj-id prior to trial (way below the minimum of 25 years for habitual offenders). one of the offenders had previously received a big sentence (50?) and made parole. the other had two prior trips and i really tried to get her to plead to a fairly short sentence, especially because the trial was the week before Christmas.

i did not have the nerve to ask for life or any sentence near the max. i just asked the jurors to do what they thought was right.

they both got about 30 years.

i saw the lady a couple of years ago (i was representing her son). i told her that i was glad that she had made parole after about 4 years. i asked her why she did not take the offer of 8 years. she blamed her attorney.

sadly, i saw that she was arrested again a couple of weeks ago.

another ironic twist - her attorney lost his law license because of problems resulting from drugs/alcohol too.

addiction is so tragic. i wish we could find some answers.

sunray's wench said...

Back up a little; the statement that the guy had never sought help for his addictions should be taken in the context that he had been in prison twice before. If that's not a case for better rehab programmes then I dont know what is.

I do take issue with the idea that those involved with drugs are not violent criminals. Drugs allow people to do things they would not otherwise do, just as alcohol does.

Anonymous said...

THIS IS THE KIND OF SENTENCING HANDED OUT BY THE SMITH COUNTY JUSTICE SYSTEM ALL THE TIME. I BELIEVE A FEW YEARS AGO A GUY GOT A 15 YEAR SENTENCE AFTER STEALING A CANDY BAR BECAUSE HE HAD PRIOR THEFT CONVICTIONS. IN SMITH COUNTY ANY TIME THAT YOU HAVE SPENT IS ONLY AN INHANCEMENT ON YOUR NEXT CRIME. ALSO IF THE TDCJ WOULD DO SOMETHING TO HELP REHABILITATE PRISONERS MAYBE THEY WOULD NOT FALL RIGHT BACK INTO THE SAME PATTERN. HE WILL ALSO BE ABLE TO GET THE SAME DRUGS ON THE INSIDE THAT HE RECEIVED ON THE OUTSIDE DUE TO IT BEING AVAILIBLE THROUGH OTHER PRISONERS THAT SNEAK IT IN. IT IS SUCH A SHAME THAT RICKIE HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO GET OVER HIS ADDICTION AND MOVE ON TO A NORMAL LIFE AFTER 21 YEARS OF THIS BUT AT THIS TIME HE IS ADDICTED AND WILL NOT EVER KNOW ANYTHING OTHER THAN DRUGS AND TDCJ. I ACTUALLY KNEW RICKIE 21 YEARS AGO AND HE WAS SUCH A FUN AND GOOD LOOKING GUY. I WISH THAT HE COULD HAVE MADE A BETTER LIFE FOR HIMSELF. GOOD LUCK LIL RICK........

Anonymous said...

"Sixty year sentence for low-level drug possession"

If I live to be a thousand years old I will never understand the kind of hatred and cruelty people have towards other people over so little.

Anonymous said...

It's no surprise this was in Jack Skeen's court. It is common for juries in his courtroom to impose very harsh sentences. He is the former DA and I suspect that he and the current DA are collaborating to stack juries with people they know will support very harsh sentences like this. Defendants in Skeen's courtroom don't have a chance. To Skeen and the DA's office it's all about locking up as many people as they can for as long as they can. Justice has nothing to do with it.

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