Clemency

Missouri's Governor Commutes a Marijuana Offender's Life Sentence

After 21 years in prison, Jeff Mizanskey is eligible for parole.

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Today Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted the life sentence of marijuana offender Jeff Mizanskey, who will now be eligible for parole. Mizanskey, a 62-year-old grandfather who has been in prison for 21 years, was arrested in 1993 after he drove a friend to a motel where the friend bought several pounds of marijuana from someone who turned out to be a police informant. Mizanskey, who said he had no idea what his friend planned to do, was convicted of possession with intent to distribute. Because he had two prior convictions for selling marijuana, he received a mandatory sentence of life without parole under Missouri's "three strikes" law.

Last month a bipartisan group of state legislators urged Nixon to grant Mizanskey's clemency petition. "There is no way he would have gotten that charge if he had pled guilty," said Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican who had introduced a bill that would free Mizanskey. "But our system punishes people for going to trial." More on that here.

Mizanskey's case, which Aaron Malin highlighted here last August, is unusual but not unique. In a 2013 report on thousands of nonviolent offenders serving sentences of life without parole, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) describes 14 other cases where people received that penalty for marijuana offenses. The ACLU's list is not exhaustive, because it includes data for only nine states, plus the federal prison system. It also does not include de facto life sentences imposed as terms of years. Like Mizanskey, the marijuana lifers in the ACLU report are all victims of laws aimed at "habitual offenders." Nationwide a total of about 40,000 people are serving prison sentences for marijuana offenses.

[via Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter]

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  1. But our system punishes people for going to trial.

    Yes, it does. We need to change that.

    I propose that any offer made by the DA set a cap on the punishment that can be imposed.

    The DAs will still have to make plea bargains, because they don’t have the capacity to take every case to trial. If the DA thinks X months is enough punishment per the offer, well, that should be good enough for anyone, right?

    1. The DAs will still have to make plea bargains, because they don’t have the capacity to take every case to trial.

      How about that be the thing we change. No more plea bargaining. Everything goes to trial.

  2. Good for the gov, but it could have been better. He’s merely made Mizanskey eligible for parole:

    “”In the case of the commutation, my action provides Jeff Mizanskey with the opportunity to demonstrate that he deserves parole,” Gov. Nixon said.”

    No, numbnuts, just because you’re scared he might commit another crime and you want to be able to pass the buck and blame the parole board, doesn’t mean it’s just *under any circumstances* to make him serve over 21 years. It’s unjust. And that means the sentence needs to be commuted to time served, even if that means taking the risk that a guy who’s spent decades in prison with a bunch of worse criminals might not immediately become a law-abiding citizen.

    1. Seriously, a person’s sentence should be based on the nature of the crime, and maybe an objective measurement of recidivism, like criminal history (that is, crime’s he’s previously been *convicted* of).

      Everything else is entrail-reading.

  3. “There is no such thing as a plea of innocence in my court. A plea of innocence is guilty of wasting my time.”

  4. Nationwide a total of about 40,000 people are serving prison sentences for marijuana offenses.

    That’s disturbing.

    I’d be curious to see a study on that. Especially the effects of the justice system and byzantine ‘enhancers’ on certain crimes that would otherwise be normally low-level.

    I have a friend who’s such a gun-nut he makes me look like a soccer mom and he’s into silencers. Got all his tax stamps and complies with all the regs, but reads some of the laws. Crazy shit that can get you thrown in the clink for 20 years if you commit a crime while in possession of a silencer.

    Guess some congresscritter saw too many spy movies or Scarface or something, got scared and got some crazy minimums passed.

    Which is funny because the U.S. is positively scared shitless of silencers, yet in some places in Europe, they’re required.

    1. For the same reason so many places here are scared of switchblades.

      Hollywood.

      Seriously, these people don’t understand that movies *don’t depict reality*.

      But they here James Bond’s silencer go *phffft* and they figure these things are what master assassins use to kill cops.

      1. You Know Who Else blamed Hollywood for corrupting America?

    2. We need a ‘Tiger Repellent Award’ for laws like this.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94dGsSNOmDI

  5. It is still shocking to me Three Strikes laws are constitutional to begin with.

    1. life for being in a hotel room with a plant sounds cruel and unusual to me. but then again I am a human being with a conscience so I have no role in making or enforcing laws

  6. Well it’s about goddamn time.

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