Federal Judge Rejects Harsh Marijuana Sentencing Guideline

Credit: Torben-Bjorn-Hansen-CC-BYCredit: Torben-Bjorn-Hansen-CC-BYA U.S. District judge in Maryland rejected federal guidelines as outdated when ruling on a large-scale marijuana trafficking case yesterday.

Judge James Bredar doled out relatively soft sentences of less than five years in federal prison for Scott Russell Segal and 18 months Steven Madden. According to federal guidelines for marijuana trafficking crimes, the former could have faced up to 11 years and the latter 41 months.

Segal's and Madden's outlooks were not so optimistic when they were convicted as major players in a drug trafficking ring in January. In a 250-agent investigation, federal authorities seized “30 cars, 60 pounds of marijuana, $300,000 in cash and 35 guns,” and the district court later moved to seize an additional “$10 million, eight properties, 22 bank accounts, 24 cars, and the assets and inventories of three businesses,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

The case began when the drug czar was still denouncing legalization, months before the Obama administration's claimed pivot on marijuana crimes and mandatory minimum sentencing. Furthermore, Bredar himself is apprehensive about legalization. During sentencing, he explained his view that "regardless of what the people of two states have decided," marijuana is not a legal substance. He also “rejected the comparisons to possession cases, saying the amount of drugs being trafficked in Segal's case were among the largest he's ever seen.”

Nevertheless, in making his ruling, Bredar recognized that federal courts are operating with outdated guidance on handling marijuana crimes. “The offense is not regarded with the same seriousness it was 20 or 30 years ago when the sentencing guidelines … which are still in use, were promulgated," he said, further explaining that his decision came "not just by what is occurring around the country in terms of legalization, but more by the government's response to it."

The Sun explains that this is just one example in a growing trend of rethinking and relaxing marijuana-related convictions:

More judges across the country are imposing shorter sentences in marijuana cases, especially after the Justice Department issued its new guidelines on prosecutions earlier this year, said Mona Lynch, a criminology professor at University of California, Irvine. Segal's sentence is "not unusual," she said.

"There's very few people remaining who see the drug guidelines as being a sane and workable system because the sentences are so high and driven by weight instead of individual culpability," Lynch said.

[…]

"You're going to see, going forward, a lot of federal judges saying that if the Department of Justice is having a different view of how to enforce marijuana laws, then the judges should also think differently about their discretion in imposing sentences for marijuana," [former assistant U.S. attorney Kwame] Manley said.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Enough About Palin||

    They still got fucked.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    So...any time now Obama will start reducing what he seems to admit are the excessive sentences of federal drug prisoners? Right?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    (I apologize for focusing on a divisive and distracting social issue - I realize that politicians have to be pragmatic and reach out to voters who want marijuana to be criminalized and earn long sentences).

  • PD Scott||

    Goddamn, when will Obama quit running for re-election?

  • gaijin||

    When elections are no longer required

  • Bobarian||

    And when he is finally declared GOD-EMPORER by executive decree (in about two years).

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    How dare he. The people of the United States, through their faithful representatives in the federal legislature, said years ago that they wanted Segal and Madden to rot in prison for engaging in a transaction with others involving marijuana.

  • Krios||

    Which our great lead most certainly never did.
    Remember, it's okay when we say its okay.

  • sarcasmic||

    What part of "mandatory" does this upstart judge not understand?!?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I would guess this isn't about mandatory minimums but the sentencing guidelines, which the US Supreme Court technically made non-binding (though deviations from the guidelines are appealable). Judges tend to follow these guidelines anyway, so a departure therefrom is newsworthy.

  • Brett L||

    Hmm. So reason's add have sent me Thai Singles (no thanks, I don't like my ladies to also be boys) and what appear to be 40-year-old, breat-augmentation chicks looking for older guys. How does it know I'm married?

  • Bobarian||

    They see that you type with one hand.

  • Brett L||

    The ring, it burns us.

  • gaijin||

    one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

  • gaijin||

    Pretty blunt alt text

  • Bobarian||

    Yeah, over-sentencing can be pretty chronic

  • Raston Bot||

    Did they commit any acts of violence or otherwise violate the rights of another?

  • Will Nonya||

    so the president ignores the law, government agencies ignore the law, congress ignores the law and now judges are jumping on the band wagon?

    It seems clear that laws no longer matter until they are being used to prosecute you. Laws that exist to protect the citizens from the government have certainly been circumvented.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I don't think the judge was ignoring the law, he ignored the "non-binding" sentencing guidelines, unless I miss my guess.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Furthermore, Bredar himself is apprehensive about legalization. During sentencing, he explained his view that "regardless of what the people of two states have decided," marijuana is not a legal substance.

    This doesn't strike me as apprehension so much as acknowledging that MJ trafficking is still a crime in his district.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement