What's Happening in the Movement?
The Rockefeller Drug Law Project and Tulia Drug Sting
Since May 1998, the William Moses Kunstler Fund has been building a network of prisoners, families and their supporters to fight against New York's extraordinarily punitive mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenders, commonly called the Rockefeller drug laws.
Due to efforts by the Kunstler Fund, the Mothers of the New York Disappeared, and many other organizations and individuals who have worked tirelessly for reform, the last year has brought some small but significant legislative changes.
On December 14, 2004, Governor Pataki signed into law the Rockefeller Drug Law Reform bill (A.11895) (S.7802) that was approved by the legislature on December 7, 2004. Under the new law, all convictions for felony drug offenses that result in a state prison sentence will be determinate, putting an end to mandatory life sentences. While this legislation will mainly affect sentencing in drug cases in the future, aspects of the legislation are retroactive, impacting those already serving sentences for drug convictions.
Since January of 2005, the Kunstler Fund has provided pro bono legal representation to approximately 10% of those eligible for resentencing (454) and has devoted considerable energies to helping these inmates fight for release. Resentencing under the new law has proven more difficult than anyone imagined. It has been particularly difficult in New York County, where the District Attorney's office has put up considerable opposition to many resentencing petitions.
The Kunstler Fund is still in court in New York County on several of these cases. Because the reforms are so new, these early cases will set the precedent for how future petitions are evaluated and future cases are decided. We are fighting to make sure that the due process rights of eligible inmates are protected and that their cases receive the attention that they deserve.
For example, in 1989 Severina Jacquez was tried in absentia and sentenced to 17 years in prison under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. She was arrested 12 years later while trying to recover her bail money and sent to prison, leaving her 14-year-old daughter alone on the streets of New York for two years until she was taken in by Our Children of Catholic Charities.
In June of 2005 the Kunstler Fund filed for resentencing and under the new changes in the Rockefeller Laws, Ms. Jacquez´s sentence was reduced to nine years, plus two years off for good behavior. However, her deportation has been ordered at the expiration of her sentence. The chances of her being allowed to remain in the United States with her daughter are slim, but the Kunstler Fund is fighting for Ms. Jacquez, in spite of the odds.
In September of 2000, the Kunstler Fund investigated a racist drug sting in Tulia, Texas, which imprisoned approximately 15 percent of the town's African American community. The Kunstler Fund brought ongoing national media attention to the story. We raised tens of thousand of dollars for the victim's families who were devastated by the initial outcome. We also produced our own 26-minute documentary about the sting, Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War, which has been broadcast and distributed widely. In August of 2003, Governor Rick Perry pardoned those convicted in the Tulia Drug Sting.
In April of 2003, Tom Coleman, the undercover officer responsible for the arrests, was indicted for lying about his past in evidentiary hearings leading up to the pardons. In January of 2005, Coleman finally went to trial on these charges. Coleman was convicted, but received no jail time, and was sentenced to 10 years probation.
The Kunstler Fund was there for the perjury trial, and has continued to document events as they unfold. We have recently completed an update of our documentary, entitled Tulia 46. which tells the story of the drug sting from the beginning of our involvement in September of 2000 through the present day.
The Kunstler Fund is pleased to be able to thank our donors with copies of The Emerging Police State, a recent collection of the speeches of William M. Kunstler edited by Michael Steven Smith, Karin Kunstler Goldman, and Sarah Kunstler. This collection includes transcripts of secretly recorded speeches from Kunstler's FBI File.
The defiance, anger, passion and optimism of "America's most celebrated and most detested" radical lawyer William Kunstler ring throughout this selection of his unpublished speeches. Kunstler's outspoken opposition to war, racism and political repression resulted in an extensive FBI file, which included secretly recorded transcripts of many of his public speeches. The introduction by Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, highlights the fact that Kunstler's warning about the encroaching police state is even more prescient today. This gift is available for all donations of $100 or more.
In our efforts to provide a voice for the voiceless and to secure human rights for those who fall prey to draconian laws, we ask you to help us with our funding for these important projects. This is a critical time for us. Your tax-deductible contribution is greatly needed in order for us to continue to help those in need.
Please help us to continue our work. It is your support that makes our victories possible. You can donate by credit card on our website, www.kunstler.org/donate.html, or by check. Please make checks payable to the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, and mail to the Kunstler Fund at 13 Gay Street, New York, NY 10014.
"Contributions to the WMK Fund are tax-deductible under Section 501 © (3) of the Internal Revue Code. A copy of the Fund's annual report is filed with the Attorney General and a copy is available either from the Fund or the Attorney General's Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10272."
New York Drug Law Reform less than meets the eye
According to a report by New York's Legal Aid Society released in December, last year's partial Rockefeller drug law reforms lowered some sentences and allowed a relative handfull of inmates (the "A-1" cases), to be resentenced, but did not address sentence reductions for the majority of New York's prisoners. The report, "One Year Later: New York's Experience with Drug Law Reform," called on New York legislators to come back and finish what they started.
While last year's partial reform expanded treatment options for prisoners, it failed to grant more power to judges to order treatment instead of prison, and it failed to fund community drug treatment programs, the report found. Most importantly, the partial reforms did not significantly reduce the state's prison population.