David Sullivan -- #38227-008

13 Years -- Marijuana Conspiracy

David Sullivan, prisoner of the drug war
I am a 52-year-old college graduate, born and raised in Fairfax, Virginia. I moved to Tucson, Arizona 27 years ago, married a lovely woman, Marsha, and have two wonderful kids, Ariel -14, and Colin -11. I was arrested in November 1996 for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Eight months previous to this a former good friend of mine had been arrested for marijuana and had found it expedient to turn in life-long friends to save himself. This is all too familiar under the current conditions of justice in America. Another tactic is the common use of militaristic assault teams (AKA 'goon squads') to commit acts of terror against nonviolent families.

My case is instructive. During the months following my notification by the US Justice Dept of their investigation of me, my attorney was in constant contact with them. In fact, we met personally with them on two occasions, with a third scheduled, attempting to negotiate a plea agreement. Unfortunately the US Attorney chose a not uncommon prosecutorial negotiating tactic: Acts of Terror.

My former house is located in a very middle class neighborhood with no history of violence. Early before sunrise on November 6, 1996 over a dozen men, dressed totally in black, wearing masks, and armed with automatic weapons assaulted my family. They broke into my home without announcement or knock, screaming threats at my wife and children, and ultimately terrifying them with weapons trained at their heads.

For what purpose? What was accomplished? Permanently traumatizing a nine and twelve year old. My children's trust in law enforcement is gone, as is mine, but maybe this is their intent. I am not violent and have no history of it. Why does the government sponsor use of violence and terror? An Orwellian negotiating instrument. Successful in my case, but what is the cost of authority run amuck?

The day I was denied bond, they arrested my wife outside the courtroom. This left my children at school on their own; the authorities refused phone calls to either of us. It took us two weeks to get my wife home again.

As anyone who has traveled through our justice system knows, there is no validity to the premise "innocent until proven guilty." You are guilty and treated as such from start to finish. I was to learn this first hand as I began an arduous journey of extradition across the country in shackles.

It was weeks before I arrived at my destination during which I stayed in numerous jails where conditions of treatment were dehumanizing. Little public attention is ever focused on this part of the American Gulag. Men and women are subjected to conditions of animal bondage.

At my initial court appearance the prosecutor warned that any attorney accepting my case would have his fees confiscated (which had just happened to my last attorney). Denied an attorney of my choice, the court appointed me one who refused to spend any time investigating or preparing for my case. He would not come visit me nor accept my phone calls.

This scenario is endemic to the system of court appointed attorneys. These courthouse lawyers are given paltry remuneration and their quality and performance reflect the same. In their defense they are up against a behemoth with near unlimited power and resources. It is hard to imagine how out-of-whack our system of justice is until you (God forbid) experience it first hand.

The only advice I received from my attorney was to accept the prosecutor's deal; he felt I would be sentenced to 6-10 years. Due to a 20-year-old marijuana conviction, the prosecutor promised to double my sentence and recommend 30 years if I did not accept. I had no alternative.

I felt betrayed when I discovered my Presentence Report was recommending that I receive 25 years, very near the 30 I was originally threatened with. In spite of no appreciable help from my attorney at the sentencing hearing, I was able to limit the damage to 13 years. Unlike many defendants, I was not offered a sentence reduction (Rule 35 or 5K.1) because-I would not testify to untruths about others.

The government not only takes your freedom, but anything of value you might own. All of my assets were seized, whether they were part of the crime or not, under the substitute assets law. My wife and children's life insurance, along with family heirlooms and even earned retirement funds were confiscated. My family was left destitute. If it had not been for the caring and assistance of relatives and neighbors, they would have been left to the streets.

I harbor no illusions that my marijuana dealings were wrong and violated the law. But marijuana was a very small part of my life. I was a successful homebuilder before helping to found an environmentally beneficial toxic waste recycling company. We had perfected two inventions with worldwide patents pending. We built our first plant and were on our way to alleviating one of the world's worst pollution problems.

I lived in an historic area of Tucson where my wife and I were instrumental in starting a neighborhood association that has protected the cultural diversity and quality of life. My wife, who was past president of the association, and I helped obtain state funding and matching donations to renovate a National Historic Register chapel into a neighborhood community center. Upon completion of the project the Association received the Governor's Award in recognition of our work. Over the years this neighborhood association has donated thousands of dollars to the Tucson community.

I enjoy working with children and was involved in and coached youth soccer for five years. I also coached Little League and assisted in Cub Scouts, as well as being an Eagle Scout sponsor. There was more to my life than marijuana.

David Sullivan with his family David Sullivan with his family
David Sullivan with his family during prison visitation:
Wife Marsha, son Colin, daughter Ariel

David Sullivan with his family

I remain a caring father who is still very much involved in my children's lives regardless of my current circumstances. Unfortunately, my wife and I are no longer married but remain extremely close. We have weekly family meetings by telephone.

Why was none of this considered at sentencing? The answer is Mandatory Minimums and the Sentencing Guidelines that ignore what kind of person you are. The Sentencing Guidelines equates the 'level' of my crime as equal in severity to the taking of a life! Is this the parity the Sentencing Guidelines were to bring to our system of justice? It seems yet another example of the Feds practicing the Law of Unintended Consequences.

What are the benefits of this war on drugs? Is there any reduction in drugs or drug use? No. Is there less drug-related crime? No. A huge growing number of displaced people and ruined lives? Yes. Drugs as an escalating public health problem? A resounding yes.

The ultimate purpose of criminal law is to restore the peace that crime robs from victims, perpetrators, and communities alike. This is known as restorative justice. How is our current system restorative?

The goals of punishment as expressed in the Sentencing Guidelines are deterrence, incapacitation, just punishment and rehabilitation. Only warehousing human misery is accomplished under current policy and at great cost ($150 plus billion per year). But is this the true cost to society? What is the legacy created by the dissolution of families? The unproductive and wasted years of prisoners who one day will re-enter society naked of coping skills. What of the unbounded power of prosecutors at the expense of fundamental liberties?

The true cost of the war on drugs is of unholy proportions. Is this what we intended? God help us.