Drug War

When Is Daddy Coming Home?

How a peaceful pot grower got 15 years as a "career offender"

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The first time Paul Fields was sentenced for a marijuana offense, he got probation. The second time, he got 100 days in jail. The third time, he got more than 15 years in prison.

That astonishing escalation was caused by a federal sentencing provision aimed at "career offenders," defined as people with two prior convictions for felonies involving drugs or violence who are convicted of a third such felony. Without that enhancement, which Congress seems to have mandated with scary predators in mind, Fields, who never hurt anyone and never even got to sell any of the marijuana from the 256 plants police found at his home in Jonesborough, Tennessee, would have faced a five-year sentence, the mandatory minimum for growing 100 or more plants.

A new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) recommends that Congress revise the career-offender provision to focus on violent criminals, which would avoid injustices like the one suffered by Fields. "The career offender directive fails to meaningfully distinguish among career offenders with different types of criminal records and has resulted in overly severe penalties for some offenders," the commission concludes. "The career offender directive should be amended to differentiate between career offenders with different types of criminal records, and is best focused on those offenders who have committed at least one 'crime of violence.'"

The USSC found that career offenders, who account for 11 percent of the federal prison population, "are sentenced to long terms of incarceration, receiving an average sentence of more than 12 years (147 months)." That's more than three times the average federal sentence imposed in fiscal year 2015. Most career offenders—74 percent in fiscal year 2014—are serving time for drug trafficking. Even federal prosecutors seem to be questioning the justice of these sentences. The commission notes that "career offenders are increasingly receiving sentences below the guideline range, often at the request of the government."

Focusing on violent criminals makes sense in terms of public safety. The USSC notes that "career offenders who have committed a violent instant offense or a violent prior offense generally have a more serious and extensive criminal history, recidivate at a higher rate than drug trafficking only career offenders, and are more likely to commit another violent offense in the future." The commission's recidivism study found that most career offenders who served time for drug trafficking (54 percent) were arrested again within eight years of being released, but they tended to commit new drug offenses rather than violent crimes.

"Under the current guideline, offenders can receive sentences of 15, 22, or even 30 years in federal prison, even if they had never spent a day behind bars previously," notes Mary Price, general counsel at Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "We could increase public safety and promote justice better by reserving the most serious sentences for the most serious offenders."

Focusing on violent criminals would also be consistent with the rhetoric of the politicians who supported the career-offender provision, which was enacted in 1984. It grew out of a 1982 amendment by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a progressive icon who back then liked to attack the Reagan administration for being soft on crime. "The war on crime has been declared again and again," Kennedy told a conference of local prosecutors in July 1982, "and it has been lost over and over." He argued that the law needed to come down harder on "career criminals," since "it is likely that 50 percent of all violent crimes are committed by only 5 percent of all criminals."

President Ronald Reagan agreed. In a speech a few months later, he described "a class of repeat offenders and career criminals who think they have a right to victimize their fellow citizens with virtual impunity."

Kennedy emphasized violent crime, even saying (per the Associated Press's paraphrase) that "too much of the nation's scarce prison space is now filled by non-violent offenders." But the senator's amendment, which required judges to impose "the maximum or approximately the maximum penalty for the current offense" on "career criminals," included drug offenders. So did the version that Congress approved as part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which established the USSC and required that its sentencing guidelines "specify a term of imprisonment at or near the maximum term" for career offenders.

That's how Paul Fields, a gentle and generous Deadhead with a new wife and an 8-month-old daughter, ended up with a 188-month sentence for growing marijuana. That is substantially longer than the average federal sentence for sexual abuse (134 months in fiscal year 2015), robbery (78 months), arson (62 months), or manslaughter (54 months). Despite the possibility that he would be sentenced as a career offender, Fields pleaded guilty to avoid charges against his wife. "I broke the law and deserve to be punished," hesays. But especially now that Fields' "crime" is treated as legitimate commercial activity in many states, his punishment seems grossly excessive.

Arrested in 2009, Fields went to prison in 2010. Now in his early 50s, he has served six and a half years and has not seen his 7-year-old daughter outside a prison visitors' room since she was a baby. "My relationship with my daughter is the most important thing in my life," he says. "Still, it's hard being separated…I keep a daily journal for her—every day I write a short little note to her, talking about my day, and what I know about hers. When a notebook is full, I mail it home and my wife saves them all together to give to her someday. I want her to always know how much I love and miss her, and that I think of her EVERY day."

Fields has asked President Obama to reunite him with his family by commuting his sentence. In a letter to Obama, Fields' wife, Pari, notes that he has taken many classes, held various work positions, and taught yoga in prison. "The recent legalization of cannabis in some states of the Union, together with his time served, strongly suggest that is time to bring him home so that he can return to being a hard-working, contributing member of society," she writes. "Most importantly, Paul needs to be home to resume his most important job: being a full-time father to our 7-year-old daughter, Corrina, who has no memory of her father living at home and keeps asking, 'When is Daddy coming home?'"

On the face of it, Fields seems like an excellent candidate for clemency. But Obama—who yesterday granted 214 commutations, raising his total so far to 562—is giving priority to prisoners who meet certain criteria, which include serving at least 10 years of a sentence that would be shorter under current law. Fields misses on both counts.

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

[The sentence that Fields would have faced without the "career offender" enhancement has been corrected.]

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  1. So, when does someone put a camera in Trump or Clinton’s face and ask them when Corrina’s dad is coming home?

    Too bad, kid: your dad’s not Muslim. Immigration’s the wedge issue this election year, not drugs.

    Whatchagonnado?

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  2. Focusing on violent criminals would also be consistent with the rhetoric of the politicians who supported the career-offender provision, which was enacted in 1984. It grew out of a 1982 amendment by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a progressive icon who back then liked to attack the Reagan administration for being soft on crime. “The war on crime has been declared again and again,” Kennedy told a conference of local prosecutors in July 1982, “and it has been lost over and over.” He argued that the law needed to come down harder on “career criminals,” since “it is likely that 50 percent of all violent crimes are committed by only 5 percent of all criminals.”

    We certainly should come down harder on people who commit DUI manslaughter.

    Obama’s criteria makes no sense. Especially the decade in prison part. “Sure, you haven’t done anything to deserve punishment this cruel, but we’re going to make you suffer before we do anything about it.” If the man had a soul, he’d pardon Paul Fields (and anyone else serving time for drug offenses) tomorrow.

    1. Forget about soul. If the man had any sense of decency or shame, he would pardon Fields. It was someone like Fields Who sold Obama the pot that Obama brags about smoking when he was young. That Obama used history of drug use to build his “Street Cred” while continuing to incarcerate people who did exactly what he did is repugnant. That he is never called on the carpet for this shows how much the media are in the tank for him.

    2. If the man had a soul

      Obama and Holder have done more to end the drug war than any other administration in history. Yet if they had done more you’d complain that he was acting like an emporer. It’s up to Congress and the states to change the laws now. That means you. We are a nation of laws, not imperial grace. Also Trump will be way worse. Hillary probably about the same.

      1. We are a nation of laws unless you are a female Democrat campaigning for The Presidency.

        Principals Trump Principles for the Democrat party and their media boot lickers it seems.

      2. Obama could use his pen or his phone to reschedule MJ…

        Doing more to end the war on drugs than any other administration in history you mean selling guns to drug gangs, right?

        1. “Selling guns to drug gangs” ?? LOL. Drug war’s over and you guys lost. Sorry. Move on.

          1. Drug war’s over and you guys lost.

            Which guys?

          2. Drug war’s over

            Obama commuted a few hundred sentences. For a rough sense of scale, that’s pissing in the wind. How many DEA agents have been let go? How many inter-agency task forces have been decommissioned? How many SWAT teams have been disbanded?

            It ain’t over by a long fucking shot, and it’s not even drawing down.

            Go lie somewhere else.

  3. How long until the first cannabis marketing board is established to assist the industry in dealing with the erratic production cycle of cannabis and to improve returns to the growers and processors of cannabis in the United States? Imagine the fragrant fires that would ensue as gigantic piles of fresh weed were set ablaze under the night sky to ensure all cannabis producers got a fair price. I bet the DEA would be all over that shit.

    1. Those kinds of “production boards” always crack me up when they claim to be helping growers deal with erratic production cycles.

      You’d think that the producers of these crops, being the experts and all, would be perfectly capable of getting together and coming up with a voluntary solution. If these government “production boards” are so wonderful, why do they have to be mandatory?

      1. Aren’t these “production boards” started by the producers?

        Farmers are all commies at heart. Which makes sense at the local level when they are all related and all producing a commodity that is dependent on rain and goes into the communal hopper.

        The problem is when you zoom out to a level when not everyone is a cousin, and you aren’t willing to put up with quite as much BS.

  4. “Just doing their jobs. They don’t write the law. He should’ve know better. If you don’t do anything wrong…”

    All of these attitudes are exist somewhere in the majority’s psyche. America, you deserve Bush, Obama, Clinton, Trump.

    1. The reality is drugs, and the refusal to abide by arbitrary rules about them, is simply a tool. They say history is a chronicling of war, but that is only a part of it. History is the long tale of rulers ruling the masses, and war is simply a subset – periods of time when things get sticky, and a little out of control. What is war, after all, than the ruling class of racketeers point the young and able at each other to work off steam and thin the herd. When their ability to weave webs of deceit -to keep the masses complacent and industrious – tear a little bit, they launch masses of angry men at each other.

      And so DRUGZ!. Another tool to keep the masses in line. If you don’t do as you are told, and show obedience, you will be punished. You asked for it. YOU didn’t follow The Rules. So the Rulers punish you. That’s their objective all along – to institutionalize everybody one way or another. You can do it the “easy” way – perhaps by putting yourself in the vice of being a creditor and debtor at the same time – take out one of those nifty mortgages while shoving your pay to Wall Street in the form of a 401K, or the hard way by simply flipping off the Rulers and get put in a cage. Your choice. But you WILL fall into line and be controlled.

      1. Lunatic – drugs kill. Thousands of low-education middle age white men are dying of a heroin epidemic across the country. You’re going to tell us these rules are ‘arbitrary’ and they’re just ‘tools’ to ‘thin the herd’? You are completely psycho. I hope you get help.

        1. The feds poison the drugs so that they kill.

          1. ^ Lunatic. The feds protect us from the drugs. Trump will build a wall to keep them out and hire low educated middle class white men to maintain it and he’ll round up you crazies and sickos and give jobs to low-educated middle age white men to teach you the truth.

            1. Are you brain-damaged, AddictionMyth?

              1. Is the sky blue?

        2. Some people die from misusing drugs. See the difference? No, I didn’t think you would. Fuck off.

        3. Yes, drugs kill. However I see no evidence in history that a government bad changes that much. At one point the Turks mutilated anyone caught smoking tobacco (I forget whether it was slit noses of cutting off lips). It didn’t stop the smokers. If there has been a month during the long War On Drugs during which one could not buy heroin, cocaine, or marijuana in any city in the land, I have not heard of it.

          That a problem exists does not mean that the State has a solution.

          Toolkien has a major point. The history of governments is the history of a succession of self-selected elites, each one firmly believing that they were put upon earth to tell the rest of us what to do. The progress of civilization cam be measured by the degree to which the common man could tell the current elite to go climb a tree and make it stick.

          I suspect that Toolkien is oversimplifying when he (she?) suggests that The War On Drugs is simply a tool to keep the masses in line. There are probably a lot of reasons the elite don’t want the masses to have access to some drugs. They still should be told to go screw themselves.

  5. I recently moved to South Jersey for medical school, so I occasionally head to Philly for . . . various reasons. Every time I drive the interstate into town, I’m momentarily caught off guard by the sight of billboards shilling the Cannabis Career Institute, which has recently taken up residence in the City of Brotherly Love. The sheer brazen audacity of the advertising campaign, situated just a few miles from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, is breathtaking. It would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.

  6. Good. Get these scumbags off the streets. They should be grateful they didn’t end up in the woodchipper. All this bellyaching will be a distant memory after Trump restores law and order to our country on Jan 20. I can’t wait.

    1. AddictionMyth says, “Get these scumbags off the streets. They should be grateful they didn’t end up in the woodchipper.”

      Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte just called and wants you as his drug czar. He says he still got hundreds to kill and you are the man for the job….a fascist piece of shit. Bon voyage.

      1. sarcastic troll is sarcastic

        maybe drunk.

  7. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dabbled with hemp and probably good old MaryJane as well.

    John Adams quote –

    “Seems to me if grate Men dont leeve off writing Pollyticks, breaking Heads, boxing Ears, ringing Noses and kicking Breeches, we shall by and by want a world of Hemp more for our own consumshon,”

    1. I think Adams was referring to hemp rope, not MJ.

  8. I can only imagine the nightmarish opinions of Trump on drugs. It is suffice to say that bonehead would regress these draconian policies even further.

    1. In the early 1990’s, Trump actually gave a very articulate explanation as to why the war on drugs was a failure and should be stopped. If he were consistently genuine than I do not know how he could back away from it. There could be no “evolving” on the issue for him without looking stupid.

  9. Can anyone tell me whether AddictionMyth is satire or retarded?
    Too hard to tell.

    1. Isn’t there something about when a group/position becomes indistinguishable from its parody?

    2. Why would we assume that these conditions are mutually exclusive?

    3. Are you brain-damaged, Reverend Lovejoy?

      1. Retarded.

    4. Either way, he’s also really lazy. Even retards can work hard to be better retards. Like the Special Olympics.

    5. Bipolar + Paranoid schizo

      Winning combo

  10. Thanks for the nut-punch Sunday.

  11. It takes a village….to take your daddy away.

    1. Government is just the things we choose to do together. Collectively, we have done this to the Fields.

      1. I’m a…I’m a monster!

  12. No doubt, weed should be legal, but getting busted three times is Darwinian.

    1. Stupidity or shortsightedness shouldn’t be crimes.

      1. Never said they should be.

    2. This. After spending 100 days in jail, it’s time to find another job.

  13. Albert Jay Nock:

    Once, I remember, I ran across the case of a boy who had been sentenced to prison, a poor, scared little brat, who had intended something no worse than mischief, and it turned out to be a crime. The judge said he disliked to sentence the lad; it seemed the wrong thing to do; but the law left him no option. I was struck by this. The judge, then, was doing something as an official that he would not dream of doing as a man; and he could do it without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because he was acting as an official and not as a man. On this principle of action, it seemed to me that one could commit almost any kind of crime without getting into trouble with one’s conscience. Clearly, a great crime had been committed against this boy; yet nobody who had had a hand in it? the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the complaining witness, the policemen and jailers? felt any responsibility about it, because they were not acting as men, but as officials.

    1. I has a sad.

  14. “My relationship with my daughter is the most important thing in my life,” Paul says.

    Let’s be honest. It obviously wasn’t as important as growing pot.

  15. Pot should be legal (like a lot of things that aren’t). However, it’s not in this guy’s area and he knows the penalties and potential impact on his family. His fault.

    Don’t try and tug at my heartstrings with sappy shit like this Reason. This article should be aimed at the masses who emote, rather than think.

    1. I actually heard a similar argument about Salman Rushdie. He knew what would happen when he published his book, he’s unworthy of sympathy.

      1. I disagree to an extent. Rushdie brought attention to the issue and that’s worthy of some respect.

        This is a little different in that the dude shouldn’t have done this to his daughter.

        I have no idea what happened to Rushdie’s family.

      2. In other words, if the guy was practicing civil disobedience, and suffering as a result, then that’s one thing.

        Using his daughter as a human shield is another.

        1. How is he using his daughter as a human shield?

          The punishment here is excessive and cruel, even supposing that the laws against growing weed are the least bit just. That seems to be the main point of the article. But anyone getting imprisoned for growing or selling drugs, no matter how stupidly they went about it, is an absolute moral outrage.

  16. Further stupidity due to our confusion over what justice is.

    What is justice? What is it really?

    Justice is repayment, “an eye for an eye” as it were. You steal $10, you repay the victim $10 (probably plus expenses).

    You assault, the victim can beat you blow for blow, you murder, the victim’s kin may kill you (if they so choose).

    You see, this is very much like what justice looked like before government realized there was power and money to be taken by deciding that they were the true victim when any “crime” would take place.

    Now, if someone doesn’t take anything from anyone, then there is no victim and there is no one to repay. If the jury (or judge) determine that you have taken something, the victim may decide to extract total repayment, partial repayment, or simply forgive the debt. And, as no one else was harmed, no one else can complain that “they weren’t punished enough” if the victim forgives the debt.

    Simple and just. Precisely what government doesn’t like…

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  18. Kinda disapointed, but not surprised by the popularity of the sentiment that he deserved his fate by the fact he’d been popped before.

    WHYCOME HE NO RESPECT TEH POT LAWZ!!!

  19. RE: When Is Daddy Coming Home?
    How a peaceful pot grower got 15 years as a “career offender”

    It is appropriate that The State has incarcerated this man for growing pot for a host of reasons. First, the little people want to consume pot and therefore has produced a market for it. This man has foolishly adopted capitalist ideas of supply and demand without the seeking the wise approval of his elitist rulers who enslave us all. Not seeking permission from our obvious betters is a felony to inhale and exhale voluntarily in unto itself and selling MJ is a crime that cannot be overlooked either. Secondly, putting this miscreant in prison only demonstrates what a civilized country we are. Incarcerating the little people for growing a product people demand only shows that we are serious about eliminating the last ugly vestiges of capitalism. As we all know, our ruling elitists are in power to tell us untermenschen what we should buy and consume. Lastly, this man needs to be put into prison because it helps fuel the prison industry complex. Our ruling elites have made this more than a cottage industry. Prison is now big business, and incarcerating people helps employ others at the expense of the unwashed masses. Nothing but good has come from this arrest.

  20. The guy seems to have “offended” someones sensibilities, “the majesty of the law”, or something.

  21. “The first time Paul Fields was sentenced for a marijuana offense, he got probation. The second time, he got 100 days in jail. The third time, he got more than 15 years in prison.”

    OK, the laws are over the top. But they are not an unknown quantity.
    How about after arrest and conviction number two, well you stop.

    Was the 100 days such a joy he didn’t mind?

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