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Today's drug enforcement laws are swamping the judicial system.

In many courts, the right to trial by jury in civil cases has all but disappeared. In far too many federal courts, the right to a trial presided over by a constitutional officer has vanished. People who can't wait 10 or more years to have a civil dispute decided are forced to "rent" a retired judge or pay a lawyer to arbitrate. Even' in systems that have not reached gridlock, drug-congested dockets have diverted judicial time and attention from the thoughtful resolution of disputes to the ritualized procession of charge, plea and computerized sentences to crowed prisons.

For years now, many Federal Judges have taken a stand against mandatory minimum sentences. Over 86% call for outright abolition of mandatory sentencing. Some Senior Federal Judges have refused to hear drug cases because of the long sentences they are bound by law to give defendants. Many Federal Judges are recording their dissent and we are collecting them here.

"Only when a judge makes a departure from the guideline sentencing will a public record for statistical purpose be created for proper analysis of judicial dissent. What happens when a federal magistrate 'dissents' is akin to no purpose to the defendant. They largely occur at a very human moment, when the judge and defendant are eye to eye at sentencing. One man is about to crush another human person's life with a term of imprisonment. Most people don't realize that there's no one really keeping track of how many times a judge says, "I'm really sorry I have to sentence you to thirty years. I don't have any choice young man." Or when they say, "Maam, I know that you will die in prison because of the sentence I'm going to impose, and that seems rather extreme for a first time nonviolent drug offense." -- Federal Sentencing Study, Professor David Zlotnick, Roger Williams University School of Law

The entire issue is throughly explained by Professor Zlotnick in his Federal Sentencing Study. Compelling are his revelations that show judicial dissent occurs largely with Republican-appointed judiciary. But, at the same time, their dissenting opinions are of little use to defendants, so calling it 'activist' or 'liberal' is worrisome because federal judges don't act like activists, nor have they been liberal -- for quite some time.

7th Circuit Chief Judge Calls for Loosening of Sentencing Guidelines; from National Law Review (US), 9/14/09

Two Judges Target Cocaine Penalties; from Washington Post (DC), 6/29/09

OpEd: Retired Judge Says It Is Time To End War On Marijuana; from Bellingham Herald (WA), 3/21/09

Judge Quest To Decriminalize Minor Drug Use Gets Support; from Houston Chronicle (TX), 1/15/09

What Might 2009 Have In Store For Punishment Theory And Incarceration Rates? From The Sentencing Law & Policy Blog of Doug Berman, Esq., 1/2/09

Judges, Lawyers Question Fairness Of Mandatory Sentences; from Winona Daily News (MN), 7/27/08

Judges See Failure In Fate Of Drug Cases; from Baltimore Sun (MD), 3/5/08

Judge Argues For Softer Drug Laws; from Central Florida Future (FL Edu), 12/3/07

OpEd: It's A Gray Area: Current Drug Policies Inefficient, by Judge James Gray; from Daily Pilot (CA), 10/1/07

Commentary: Jailing Juvenile Offenders with Adults Only Helps Create Smarter, More Violent Criminals; from (US), 5/25/07

Column: In The Costly War On Drugs, Who's To Say What Is Right? from St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), 1/14/07

Judge Calls For Easing Of Drug Penalty; from Houston Chronicle (TX), 11/20/06

Judge: Cocaine Sentencing Disparity 'Unconscionable'; from Associated Press (US)

Report: Why Are Federal Judges So Acquittal Prone? from Law Quarterly, Washington University School of Law (MO)(PDF Format)

Archive: Supreme Court Rules 5-4 That Only Juries Can Enhance Sentences: Sixth Amendment Sentencing Issues [Apprendi, Summerlin] Revisited - June 25, 2004; Blakely v. Washington, No. 02-1632

Judge Criticizes Ex-Officer's 315-Year Sentence; from Baltimore Sun (MD), 6/17/06

Federal Judge Raps Rules On Sentencing; from Charlotte Observer (NC), 5/29/06

Federal Judge Blasts Mandatory Minimum Sentences; from New York Law Journal (NY), 1/20/26

Judge Rails Against Drug Sentencing; from Providence Journal (RI), 11/20/05

Drug Sentences Under Scrutiny; N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley B. Mitchell Jr., from News & Observer (NC), 11/15/05

'War On Drugs' Not Meant To Be Won; CT Superior Court Judge Howard Scheinblum, from The Norwich Bulletin (CT), 6/4/05

Commentary: Our Absurd Drug War And The Judge Who Just Said No; from The Orange County Register (CA), 2/25/05

Sentencing and Sensibility, By Myron H. Thompson, Federal Judge; from The New York Times, 1/21/05

OPED: Policy Of Prohibition A Failure, by Judge J.B. Paradis, provincial court of British Columbia; from The North Shore News (CN BC), 11/24/04

Op-Ed: Rehab Justice; from The New York Times, 11/18/04

Judge Questions Long Sentence in Drug Case; from The New York Times, 11/17/04

Congress Should Reconsider Federal Sentencing Guidelines; from The Sioux City Journal (IA), 9/12/04

Utah Judge Rejects U.S. Sentencing Rules; from The Associated Press, 7/1/04

Judge Censures Federal Sentencing Guidelines; from The Associated Press, 6/22/04

Judge Pro Tem Kicked Off Bench; from The Arizona Tribune, 6/14/04

Treatment Benefits Everyone; By James T. Smith Jr., Former Circuit Court Judge

Our Surrender In War On Drugs; By Mark S. Coven, First Justice of the Quincy District Court

Judge Eleanor Schockett: Out On The Streets; from The Listener (New Zealand)

Prosecutors Are Seeking Removal Of Judge From Cases; from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Wolf Raps Focus on Guns, Drugs in US Docket; from The Boston Globe (MA)

More Judges Leaving Bench for Better Pay; from The Associated Press

Judge Tapes Sentencing in Wake of New Law; from Associated Press

Western Federal Judges Rip New Law Limiting Sentencing Discretion; from Associated Press

Too Little Second Chances for Prisoners; By Nancy Gertner, US District Court Judge

New York's Federal Judges Protest Sentencing Procedures; from The New York Times

The ABA Justice Kennedy Commission Hearings; from the American Bar Association

Triumph for Drug Policy Alliance and All Drug Policy Reform Advocates: Supreme Court Declines to Hear Government on Medical Marijuana

Judicial Conference Seeks Restoration of Judges' Sentencing Authority; from the US Courts

Judges In A Stew On Federal Sentences - Guidelines Seen As Too Rigid, Unfair

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer: Mandatory Sentences `Bad Policy'

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: End Minimum Sentences

U.S. Chief District Judge Graham Mullen, Chief Federal Judge, Western District of North Carolina

Federal Judge of the 8th Circuit, Myron Bright (Concurring Opinion)

Judge Carl Horn III - Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge, Western District of North Carolina

Judge John S. Martin Jr. - Federal District Judge, Manhattan, NY

Judge Kane Lambasts Federal Drug War (again)

Judge Robert W. Pratt - U.S. Southern District of Iowa

Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella, U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit

Judge Volney V. Brown Jr. Former US Magistrate,  Los Angeles (1982 to 1995)

Judge Nancy Gertner, U.S. District Court, Boston

U.S. Senior District Judge of Denver Judge John L. Kane Jr.

Judge James Gray, Superior Court, Santa Ana, CA

Federal Judge of the 8th Circuit, Myron Bright

Federal Judge of the 8th Circuit, Donald P. Lay

Federal Judge of the D.C. Circuit, Harry T. Edwards

Federal Judge of the D.C. Circuit, Stanley Sporkin

Federal Judge of Illinois, Central District, Harold A. Baker

Federal Judge of New York, Southern District, Morris E. Lasker

Federal Judge Whitman Knapp, Southern District of New York

Judge Frances Howard, B.C., Canada

Professor of Law Jeffrey M. Blum (responding to request from Judge John Elfin, Western District of NY)

Federal Judge Harold Greene, of Washington, ruled that important elements of the mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenders were unconstitutional.

Highlights of dissenting opinions judges have shared publicly:

"Reaching back still further, the current dominant opinion supporting the war on drugs in general, and our anti marijuana laws in particular, is reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student. While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was then condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs. The ensuing change in public opinion occurred much more slowly than the relatively rapid shift in Americans' views on the Vietnam War, and progressed on a state-by-state basis over a period of many years. But just as prohibition in the 1920's and early 1930's was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies, today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana, n9 and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product, lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting -- however inarticulately -- that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely." -- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting in Morse v. Frederick, No. 06-278, June 25, 2007

Federal Judge Richard Neville, of Chicago; March 1996 told USA Today, "the markup on illegal drugs and their enormous profits to sellers create ten replacements for every offender thrown in prison. No matter how may we put in jail, that isn't going to change."

U.S. Magistrate Peter Nimkoff of Miami resigned from the bench do to the relentless erosion of rights and the governmental abuses which he daily confronted. In a press conference in 1986 he said, "There are two constitutions - one for criminal cases generally and another for drug cases," which, "invites police officers to behave like criminals. And they do." The Miami Herald did not cover this resignation or the press conference.

Federal Judge Richard Posner told USA Today, "It is nonsense that we should be devoting so many law-enforcement resources to marijuana. I am skeptical of a society that is so tolerant of alcohol and cigarettes should come down so hard on marijuana use and send people to prison for life without parole... Prison terms in America have become appallingly long, especially for conduct that, arguable, should not be criminal at all . . . Only decriminalization is a sure route to a lower crime rate . . ."

Federal Judge George Pratt of the 2nd Circuit said of police searches in the Buffalo, N.Y. airport, "It appears that they have sacrificed the Fourth Amendment by detaining 590 innocent people in order to arrest 10 who are not - all in the name of the 'war on drugs.' When, pray tell, will it end? Where are we going?" (To Reason Magazine, February 1994)

Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin defied the federal mandatory sentence by giving a drug offender a 13 month sentence, instead of the mandated 10 or more years.

Judge Robert W. Sweet District Judge in New York City; served as an Assistant US Attorney and as Deputy Mayor of New York City under John Lindsay; a graduate of Yale and of Yale Law School. "Congress should end the criminalization of marijuana, which is now widely acknowledged to be without deleterious effect. That reform alone would take 450,000 arrests out of the system."

US District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco contends that decriminalization is the key to solving our nation's current drug problem.

Federal Judge Jack Weinstein of Brooklyn has refused to take drug cases because he opposes mandatory minimum sentences. He said that he had a, "sense of depression about much of the cruelty I have been party to in connection with the war on drugs."

US District Judge Thomas Wiseman, quoted in The Tennessean, "We've just about lost a generation of young people. We're building new prison beds at the rate of about 1000 a week and we're still overcrowded... We've spent $100 billion on the war on drugs and we're losing it."

If you have a dissenting opinion of a Federal Judge, please mail a copy to:

November Coalition
282 West Astor
Colville, WA 99114
(509) 684-1550

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