Drug Policy

Time After Time

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In 2004 Katie Heath went to state prison for selling methamphetamine in Saline County, Illinois. After serving a year, she got out, got a job, went back to school, and started caring for her children again. Last year she was indicted on federal conspiracy charges based on the same drug dealing for which she had already served time. Although she cooperated with the federal investigation and signed a plea agreement, prosecutors gave her nothing in return, condemning her to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. That's 20 actual years, with no parole, for the same actions that got her a year in state prison. The federal judge assigned to Heath's case, Phil Gilbert, was so outraged that he refused to impose the sentence and ultimately recused himself from the case. "She obviously was trying to turn her life around, and then this federal indictment hits her with a 20-year mandatory minimum," Gilbert recently told WSIL, an ABC affiliate in southern Illinois. "It just raised a lot of questions of fairness." He called Heath "the poster child for what is wrong with the sentencing policy and the federal sentencing structure."

As things stand, defendants can escape a statutory mandatory minimum only by convincing prosecutors to certify that they have provided "substantial assistance" to the government. In effect, this power transfers sentencing discretion from judges to prosecutors, a point to keep in mind when you hear concerns about giving judges too much leeway in determining punishments. Excessive judicial discretion creates problems of its own, allowing wide disparities in the treatment of similar defendants. But at least judges are supposed to be neutral referees, rather than advocates for one side. In Heath's case, an appeals court upheld the prosecution's discretion to give her the full 20 years, a sentence that will be imposed by a new judge now that Gilbert has recused himself.

NEXT: Rant: Get Government Out of the Bathroom!

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  1. Maybe Bush will pardon her?

  2. How is this not double jeopardy?

  3. I’m with de stijl on this one.

    Maybe there’s just a cloud over me today, but I keep daydreaming about the locked box where I keep my eyepatch, dagger, and jolly roger.

  4. Double jeporady does not seem to apply since the charges were different and the second batch were Federal charges and the first were state ones. Remember the Rodney King beating? Same thing. Still very fucked up.

  5. The Supreme Court ruled that it is NOT double Jeopardy if two different juridictions prosecute u.

    I think it’s unfair.

    Ain’t that America.

    The discretion of prosecutors and cops is very very disturbing. They can trump up charges if u refuse to take a plea…regardless of guilt.

  6. Geotpf is correct. However, it’s worth noting that federal criminal law was extremely limited until quite recently, which is the reason no one thought to make double jeopardy apply to state and federal prosecutions. There’s no doubt that the policies behind double jeopardy restrictions are blown all to heck when this sort of thing occurs.

  7. She should have her sentence commuted. That is what commutation is for. I have said this before and I will say it again; the US Department of Justice is the most out of control organization in this country. It is not a partisan thing. It is a cultural thing. It is just as bad under Democrats as it is under Republicans. It is populated by cowboy careerist fanatics who don’t give a shit about justice or fairness or anything beyond putting another notch in their belt. If you have ever dealt with anyone in the criminal section, you find out very quickly these people are so religious in their belief that they are right and that every defendant deserves to go to jail for the maximum time possible and that no means is not justified, up to and including harassing defense attorneys, criminalizing any conduct imaginable and abusing the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines at every turn. There is a culture of fanaticism throughout the entire criminal section that is reinforced by incredibly insular hiring process. The entire criminal section ought to be fired and all new people brought in. It is the only way the Department will be fixed.

  8. Can someone recommend a new country to move to? Seriously? I give up. The idiots have won.

  9. I’m moving to New Zealand if Hillary gets elected, want to look for an apartment?

  10. From wiki:

    Double jeopardy is also not implicated for separate offenses or in separate jurisdictions arising from the same act. For example, in United States v. Felix (1992), the Supreme Court ruled: ‘a[n]…offense and a conspiracy to commit that offense are not the same offense for double jeopardy purposes.’

    I declare shenanigans. Fuckers, motherfucking fucking fucks!!!!!!!! ARRRGGGGHHHH!

  11. Where is Steven to defend the prosecutor?

  12. Taktix-And you won’t move there if Rudy or Romney wins?

  13. Mark me down with de stijl for an ARRRGGGGHHHH!, although this is nothing new.

  14. Andrew: Central Europe, especially the Czech Republic. It’s one of the few countries where the government is paralyzed enough and the legal system is still reasonably free. As opposed to the US where things will get from terrible to worse (if the Republicans somehow remain in power) or at least remain terrible (if the Democrats gain power).

  15. Jozef,

    Central Europe is great. But good luck getting your tongue around CZECH.

  16. Now if only all federal judges would refuse to sentence people for ridiculous BS like this. I imagine had he sentenced her to “time served” or something like that it would have been quickly overturned. Is this really the only way a judge can make a statement about bad laws?

  17. Central Europe is great. But good luck getting your tongue around CZECH.

    Is it any easier getting your toungue around around czech women?

  18. When I look back on all my law school classmates, the guys who went into prosecuting were: 1) in the top 5% of the class in terms of arrogance, 2) in the bottom third in terms of grades, and 3) total dickheads.

  19. This is the kind of thing that give me very bad thoughts about people.

  20. First I have a confession to make. I once supported mandatory sentencing legislation. i mentally flog myself when this kind of injustice surfaces.

    Here is what REALLY, SERIOUSLY, TOTALLY PISSES ME OFF! The prosecutor goes home at night, kisses his wife, tucks the kiddies in bed. He likely gets up on Sunday and goes to church, convinced that he is a good moral person who is a credit to his country and his profession. Probably a good Christian, he doesn’t throw the first stone here. No, he waits until she’s bleeding and trying to stand up, then launches the boulder. I wish I had his/her name so I could be more specific in my cursing.

    Of course, I’m an atheist so I have NO foundation for my morality, but just the same, I’d let the good woman contribute to her family and society. Maybe Hell won’t let me in after all, huh?

    Yes, the drug warriors are that self deluded. They must be, or thet couldn’t look in the mirror without disgust. I’m sure Rudy McRomney, and Hillary Obama support this prosecution persecution. My faith in humanity is in the single digits, and falling fast.

  21. John: Being originally from Slovakia, I sometimes forget how inflexible American tongues are 😉

  22. If anyone other than Ron Paul is elected, I am headed to Australia. I can’t wait for my pet koala named Hank or Dagny.

  23. “I’m moving to New Zealand if Hillary gets elected, want to look for an apartment?”

    Can I go too?
    I’ll drive.

  24. “Is it any easier getting your toungue around around czech women?”

    It is a lot harder and not nearly as fun to get your tongue around the Czech language. The five year plan to end the production of ugly women was as best I can tell the one communist five year plan that ever achieved its goal in the Czech Republic. My God are the women beautiful there.

  25. My God are the women beautiful there.

    C’mon John, you know you want to travel there. 😉

  26. I’m not sure how double jeopardy cannot apply just because the federal government is bringing charges. Where in the Constitution does it make that distinction? She was tried twice for the same crime no matter how you cut it.

  27. Dr. Troy Camplin,

    The state charge and sentence was for meth distribution. The feds are charging her with conspiracy to commit the act of distributing meth.

    Welcome to Kafkaland.

  28. Troy-

    It doesn’t matter what the Constitution actually says, but what the lawyers and judges say it says. Everytime us normal folks make an argument based on what it actually says we get told by condescending legal folks that we don’t have the ability or training to understand it. Despite the fact that the Constitution is written in plain English, it apparently can only be understood after dropping $100k on law school and memorizing two hundred years of American legal precedent. In fact, you aren’t even allowed to have an opinion on policy that refers to the Constitution since you haven’t had this specialized training.

  29. Randy Massey, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said he could not comment on Gilbert’s remarks.

    Fuck you, Randy Massey. I bet Patterico is coming all over himself after this.

  30. Gonzales appointed Massey, the Illinois office’s first Assistant U.S. Attorney, in July, but Massey had been running the office in an acting capacity since March 2006, when then-interim U.S. Attorney Edward McNally’s 120-day term expired. The judges will meet on Oct. 4 to discuss his and others’ qualifications for the job. Massey, through a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.

    “Among the people, he’d be considered, but it’s fair to consider others,” Herndon says. “It’s wide open at this point, and we’re just happy to look at anyone who’s interested.”

    From http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1190365380096

  31. More on the case here

  32. Maybe there’s just a cloud over me today, but I keep daydreaming about the locked box where I keep my eyepatch, dagger, and jolly roger.

    I’ll go warm up the boat.

    But Jesus Friggin Christ on a crutch, I thought I was cynical before. The stuff I read here just makes me give up all hope for this country.

  33. I AM a lawyer, and I agree that this prosecution is completely legal. Which only goes to show how much evil can be hidden behind a cloak of legality.

    I DO question the mandatory sentences. The Supreme Court overturned mandatory sentences and found them “advisory.” The judge should have sentenced her to time served and then the prosecutors have the burden of arguing that the judge’s actions were an abuse of discretion. Now, if she gets 20 years, SHE has to appeal and prove that it was not an abuse of discretion. Since it is within the sentencing guidelines, the prosecutors win: which sucks.

  34. John-David –
    Is Randy Massey the evil asshole who brought charges against this poor woman? I need to know so I can work up a stream of invective for him. That requires some thought and I don’t want to waste it if he’s not the pond scum responsible.

  35. J sub D,

    Apparently the turd directly responsible is assistant U.S. Attorney James Cutchin, according to this article, although he works for Massey at the present time.

  36. This is horrifying. Any rich libertarians out there who can set up an organization devoted to keeping hope alive for these people? Not just pressing their case with legislators and the media — I’m talking about care packages, visits, etc.

  37. John-David, thanks. I’ll get to work on my screed. James Cutchin, JC for short. Something to work with.

  38. BTW, that district has a hard-on for prosecuting meth cases at the federal level. Look at their list of 2006 press releases here.

  39. BTW, that district has a hard-on for prosecuting meth cases at the federal level. Look at their list of 2006 press releases here.

    I get it. Meth was in the media spotlight a couple years ago. What better way to make a name for yourself by prosecuting persecuting as many low level operatives in the business as you can find. Justice be damned, “I want an office inside the beltway. If I can run over enough little people with a truck, get my name in the papers alot, the sky’s the limit.”

    Fuckin’ Asswipe.

  40. Maybe there’s just a cloud over me today, but I keep daydreaming about the locked box where I keep my eyepatch, dagger, and jolly roger.

    Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.

  41. Any rich libertarians out there

    No. Just Penn Jillette. And he’s only libertarian rich, the kind where you can afford a big goofy house.

    All the money’s on the other side. This is purely a coincidence, of course.

  42. SJE and others,

    This is not a guidelines issue. Mandatory minimums are statutory, and therefore outside of Blakely and its progeny which held that the guidelines are advisory. This is why the Appeals court overturned the Judge’s decision against imposition.

    The guidelines would provide for a safety valve- a 5K1 departure upon motion of prosecutor that she provided substantial assistance to counsel or the prosecutor could have charged the case differently, or not charged it at all.

    Agree with the poster who noted that plain language of double jeopardy should save her, although the Supremes have been clear that this is not the case.

  43. Although she cooperated with the federal investigation and signed a plea agreement, prosecutors gave her nothing in return

    So she snitched and they still threw the book at her.I recall a case in which a guy got popped for selling coke (like a quarter oz) and was encouraged to flip on his supplier. He brought the narcs to his connection’s house and they found 50 kilos but the man had fled just prior to the raid (having heard the guy was arrested and knowing what the likely outcome would be). The judge went way over the guidelines( like 35 years) at his sentencing saying that anyone who knew someone with that much blow must be a major player despite the single small time sales charge.Sweet, they should teach these cases in HS civics.

  44. So do these people make ststements without a lawyer?

  45. The Supreme Court ruled that it is NOT double Jeopardy if two different jurisdictions prosecute you

    The S.C. decision is incorrect – there is no such proviso in the 5th amendment.

    “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    There are no conditions set against this right. The person was unlawfully prosecuted and should have appealed. She should not have cooperated with the federal prosecution in any way. Her lawyer should have immediately posited a motion to dismiss based on her 5th amendment right, no matter if the “jurisdiction” is different.

  46. I hate to say it, but I wonder if this is the almost inevitable result of federal prosecution of the racial murderers who were let off the hook by corrupt and bigoted state courts.

    When the ends justify the means, those corrupted means aren’t going to just end there.

  47. Francisco Torres Gamez-Under the constitution (and Supreme Court interpretations thereof, natch), The Supreme Court can NOT be incorrect. What they say, goes. They can say the ninth amendment requires everybody to wear pizzas as hats, and it would be the law of the land.

  48. Although she cooperated with the federal investigation and signed a plea agreement, prosecutors gave her nothing in return

    I’m missing something here.She plead guilty
    knowing there was a mandatory minimum so either she was facing a much harsher sentence, they had her cold on another more serious crime or she is really fucking stupid. Who did she dime out and what sentence did they get?

  49. …good luck getting your tongue around CZECH.

    You all have a year or so. Get started . I’m lucky, since I already know a little Russian, and some of the words and phrases are similar, like piwa (beer).

  50. it isn’t double-jeopardy because in the eyes of modern judges, every word is ambiguous and nothing means anything except for what they want it to.

    Essentially.

    She should appeal all the way to the SCOTUS if she has to.

  51. I grew up in Williamson County, right next door to Saline. I used to be able to pretend (against all evidence) that our little corner of the nation had avoided some of the more aggressive stupidity that passes for government these days. I knew I it was a far-fetched dream all along, but James Cutchin and Randy Massey didn’t need to be so aggressive about shattering my fantasy.

    But hey this isn’t all bad news. One more drug dealer off the streets, right? It’s for the children.

    Except for Katie Heath’s children, of course.

  52. what does it mean for a judge to “rescue himself” from the case? if he thinks it is wrong, he should set a precedent.

  53. ac, right on the money. Stay on the case, dismiss it.

  54. ac – “Recuse”. It’s not a typo. It usually happens when a judge recognizes a conflict of interest. In this case, between his conscience and the law.

  55. fyodor

    I hate to say it, but I wonder if this is the almost inevitable result of federal prosecution of the racial murderers who were let off the hook by corrupt and bigoted state courts.

    That’s pretty much what Barry Goldwater was getting at when he opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

  56. Wow, Jozef – “inflexible American tongues”?

    just wow.

  57. Another example of American exceptionalism.

  58. “Of course, I’m an atheist so I have NO foundation for my morality…”

    I’ve never understood where people get the idea that only the existence of a deity provides a basis for morality.

  59. B.O.H.I.C.A.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Note: the original hand-written text ended on the phrase “the pursuit of property” rather than “the pursuit of Happiness” but the phrase was changed in subsequent copies in part because it was broader. The latter phrase is used today).

    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

  60. But on the plus side, there’s no more meth.

  61. Please go to http://www.optimal.org and email peter voss about how you can contribute to more intelligence on planet earth. We need more intelligence. From intelligence springs optimal law enforcement. Property rights and natural law cannot be enforced by such inadequate processors as tiny human minds. Those minds that are typically brilliant at engineering are weak at understanding other humans, and understanding law. What is John Galt? John Galt is not a who -a person. John Galt is a machine that has not yet been built. There will be noone to drop the hammer on injustice until there is a man with a rayscreen who can jam the TV cameras on every street corner. There are cameras all over Chicago now. They have blinking police lights on them. There are distributed swarms of computers that will allow you to inform on yourself as I am now doing. You cannot trust your ISP, you cannot trust your own flapping mouth. You cannot trust the man who owns the pawnshop. You can only have faith in a scorched earth policy heralded by a being 1,000 IQ points higher than yourself. The cosmists have spoken, the terrans will be rendered unto the earth that birthed them. Long live humanity, humanity is dead.

  62. How far can injustice go before it hits the wall? Does it always take heads on pikes before justice prevails? If so, lets get it on. Otherwise passports should be in order.

  63. After reading this story, I wasn’t as shocked as most. This type of thing is ALL TOO COMMON in our system of “justice” It happens all the time. Not all of them result in a 20 year sentence, but I read about people serving 2-3 years state and then 5-7 federal for a conspiracy of the same state charge. It’s absolutely disgusting. Our tax dollars go towards funding these draconian, unjust sentences.

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