You may know the history. None of what I write is new. But a reminder is occasionally important.In 1986, Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose. The ensuing chaos led to the mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses that are (except for crack cocaine) still in effect today. Here is how things went down.
When Congress returned to session after the midterm elections, drugs dominated the debate. A punitive auction broke out. Eric Sterling, who served as counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, describes the proceedings:"So the DEA came up with numbers to define high-level trafficking, but a congressman from Kentucky said he would never be able to use the law because they didn’t have trafficking that high in his area. So we needed new numbers. Nobody stopped to say, “But Louisville isn’t Miami or Hollywood or New York. You should be lucky you don’t see this in Louisville.” Suddenly, these numbers just wouldn’t work — we needed “better” numbers. So I called a very respected narc named Johnny St. Valentine Brown, whose nickname was Jehru, to detail to the committee what the numbers should be on minimum trafficking violations."
Problematically, the source of these numbers is a serial liar. Mr. St. Valentine Brown is a conceded perjurer. Worse, he attempted to evade punishment for his perjury conviction by fabricating support letters, for which he was convicted of obstruction. The man who established the mandatory minimum thresholds in effect for the last twenty eight years is an accomplished prevaricator.The Supreme Court’s recognition that the drug guidelines are not empirically based is a pallid reminder of how absurd the numbers our clients face actually are. In a drug sentencing, one might as well throw darts.