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September 27, 2005 - Release: Concerned Citizens For Appropriate Justice

Jury Finds First Defendant in Great Barrington Drug Sting NOT Guilty

Community Rejects DA's Policy of Charging First Time Non-Violent Offenders With Mandatory Jail Sentences

Contact: Whitney A. Taylor, (413) 429-7380 or (617) 335-1841

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Pittsfield, MA -- After 9 hours of deliberation, a Berkshire County jury returned with a verdict of not guilty on all charges for 18-year-old Kyle Sawin. Sawin had been charged with distribution of small amounts of marijuana after he was repeatedly pressed to sell to an undercover police officer during the Summer of 2004 in the Taconic parking lot. This location is within 1,000 feet of a church, which has a pre-school program in the basement, and allowed District Attorney David Capeless to charge Sawin and the six remaining first-time, non-violent defendants with the School Zone sentencing enhancement.

This was the second time Capeless had decided to try Sawin, who has no criminal record, after the first trial ended in a hung jury. Capeless has stated that regardless of criminal history and seriousness of offense, he will bring School Zone charges to ALL possible defendants. School Zone enhancements add a minimum of 2 years, and for some of the Great Barrington drug sting defendants as much as 7 years, mandatory jail time.

"I am so grateful that this young man and his family can finally return to their normal lives, and Kyle's plans for the future," stated Judy Knight, Sawin's attorney. "Charges brought against an individual should fit the facts of the case and the goal of the criminal justice system is not to just blindly apply or stack sentences regardless of individual case circumstance. Nobody would have won if Kyle was found guilty of the school zone charges and sent to jail for 2 years."

The harsh prosecution of Sawin and six other young, first-time, marijuana only defendants who are still awaiting trial sparked the creation of Concerned Citizens for Appropriate Justice (CCAJ) and a continuing countywide debate on mandatory minimum sentencing, charging practices and the need to place resources in education and prevention instead of prosecution and punishment.

"Had the District Attorney prevailed he would have unnecessarily ruined a young mans life, splintered a family and achieved no benefit for Berkshire County in terms of addressing drug abuse," commented Peter Greer, spokesperson for CCAJ. "DA Capeless should cease this outdated, ineffective wasteful policy and join the vast majority of his constituents and national trends to use his discretion and seek appropriate, rational and effective alternatives to prison. The jury has spoken, and we hope he heard them loud and clear"

CCAJ and other advocacy organizations have found no other District Attorney in Massachusetts that would bring such sentencing enhancements for similar cases. In fact, Juror Jonathan Nix of Becket expressed outrage in the Berkshire Eagle (below) that so many government resources were put into "such a trivial case with such meager returns."

"CCAJ will continue to work toward a healthier, safer and fiscally responsible community -- which must include prevention and education, and when individuals run astray of the law, alternatives such as probation, community service, education and addiction treatment," concluded Greer.

For interviews with Ms. Knight, the Sawin Family or members of CCAJ, please contact Whitney A. Taylor at (413) 429-7380 or (617) 335-1841

September 24, 2005 - The Berkshire Eagle (MA)

Editorial: The Sawin Acquittal

Kyle W. Sawin's acquittal on drug-dealing charges yesterday in Berkshire Superior Court suggests that the District Attorney's office will be hard-pressed to get any convictions of those collected in the drug sting last year in Great Barrington. The office may well have brought, in the words of District Attorney David Capeless, a "compelling and very credible case," but jurors are feeling human beings, who may never be sold on a conviction knowing what is in store for the defendant if found guilty.

Mr. Sawin was found not guilty of distributing marijuana and committing a drug violation within a 1,000-foot school zone two months after his first case ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked. Jurors may have bought the defense's argument that the defendant was entrapped by a member of the county's Drug Task Force and/or it was uncomfortable with the mandatory two-year jail sentence for convictions of a school-zone offense. Three men, who were also part of the original 17 netted on drug charges in the Taconic parking lot, testified against Mr. Sawin in the hope that their own two-year mandatory minimum charges would be dropped, which raised the sentencing law to the attention of jurors.

The Draconian nature of the school-zone law simply cannot be ignored. It makes no distinction between first and habitual offenders or the amount of drugs sold. It ties the hands of judges, who should be allowed to consider the differences in drug cases brought before them. It is clearly designed to protect school children, and while the Taconic lot is within 1,000-feet of two schools, the undercover operation took place in summer. It's obvious unfairness will loom over any of the trials brought because of the Great Barrington sting.

First-time drug dealers should be penalized through some combination of probation, counseling and community service that will set them straight without ruining the lives of the young people charged. However, the district attorney's all-or-nothing strategy, built as it is upon a bad law, means they will escape punishment and the counseling they clearly need.

In essence, the Great Barrington sting and prosecution has accomplished nothing, other than perhaps scaring marijuana dealers out of downtown Great Barrington. The Berkshires do have major drug problems, but they involve drugs like heroin or crack, which can kill users and whose dealers and users often resort to violence.

Juror Jonathan Nix of Becket expressed outrage that so many government resources were put into "such a trivial case with such meager returns." We hope the result of yesterday's trial, and the likelihood of similar decisions if more of the Great Barrington sting cases go to trial, will prompt Mr. Capeless to focus more of his department's efforts on the serious drug problems that afflict the Berkshires.

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