Thursday, 19 January 2012 21:24

Some Alabama crack cocaine offenders freed early

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Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012, 8:30 AM     Updated: Sunday, January 15, 2012, 9:52 AM By Kent Faulk -- The Birmingham News

Image of hands holding a bagful of crack cocaine.

daily diazepam dosage The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 changed how judges sentenced felons for crack cocaine offenses as compared to those sentences for crimes involving powdered cocaine. (The Associated Press

diazepam online paypal BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA -- Willie Thomas Morris left the valium 5mg is used for federal prison at Talladega a free man on Nov. 8 after having served about two-thirds of a nine-year and two-month sentence for his conviction on gun and crack cocaine charges.

"His family was very happy to have him back home, especially before the holidays," said Scott Brower, the Birmingham lawyer who had represented Morris after he was charged.

Morris, 32, of Birmingham, is one of at least 39 former can i take two 10mg valium federal inmates sentenced on crack cocaine charges in Alabama who were given an early release from prison after new sentencing guidelines went into effect Nov. 1. At least 33 others could be released soon.

The changes to sentencing guidelines stem from the move by Congress to cut down on disparities between those sentenced for crack offenses and those sentenced for the powder version of cocaine.

will valium knock me out The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 changed the amounts of crack needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences. The amount of crack required for a mandatory five-year sentence for crack cocaine distribution increased from 5 grams to 28 grams (about 1 ounce) and the amount for a mandatory 10-year sentence from 50 grams to 280 grams. Congress asked the U.S. Sentencing Commission to change its guidelines to conform to the new law.

Civil rights groups and others had fought for the changes because they said it was unfair for people charged for a certain amount of powder cocaine to be sentenced to much fewer years in prison than those charged with having the same amount of the "crack" version of the same drug. The disparities were falling more on minorities and the poor.

There's no reason why someone in possession of the rock -- or crack -- form of cocaine should be treated any differently than someone possessing the powder form, said David Luker, a Birmingham lawyer who has a client also released almost immediately after changes in the guidelines. "I think everybody is cognizant of the fact that (law) has been applied in the past in a way that was very harsh," he said.

Luker declined to name his client who was released from a federal prison in can i take valium to thailand Mississippi days after he was ordered released on Nov. 22.

Since the guideline changes federal probation offices around the nation, including in valium schedule 8 Alabama's three federal court districts, have been determining whether prisoners are eligible to receive a reduction and submitting reports and their recommendations to the courts. Judges, with input from the U.S. Attorneys Offices in those districts, then make a determination on whether to grant the sentence reductions.

Release motions

Federal judges in Alabama have denied a number of the petitions, granted others, and some are still pending.

David Russell, chief probation officer for the how long until valium is out of my system Northern District of Alabama which includes Birmingham, said 149 motions had been filed so far seeking relief for prisoners under the new guidelines. Out of those, 14 defendants have been determined to be eligible, including six who were immediately released -- including Morris.

Eighty percent of those seeking changes in their sentences are gong to be ineligible for various reasons, including mandatory minimum sentences where the sentences can't be changed, Russell said. Others are career offenders or have shown violence in prison, he said.

The average sentence reduction for those already given reductions is 25 months, including those immediately released, Russell said. "I think it's been a good thing in the fairness of sentencing," he said.

Morris, like many of the others released so far, had already been given a reduced sentence after changes to sentencing guidelines in 2007. He was granted a reduction in his original sentence of 110 months down to 92 months.

Morris had been sentenced Sept. 13, 2006, after pleading guilty to four counts of selling, distributing or dispensing valium for anxiety and back pain crack cocaine. Birmingham police had arrested Morris after making undercover buys of crack and handguns from him in late 2005, according to his plea agreement. Morris had admitted in that agreement to having sold the drugs because he needed the money to buy Christmas presents for his daughter.

The federal court's Southern District, based in benzonatate valium Mobile, had both a higher number of inmates seeking early release and a higher number who were granted it.

Ken Coale, the chief probation officer for the Southern District, said they had 259 motions filed for sentence reductions. Of those, 150 motions had been decided by the court as of Wednesday, including 84 that were denied and 66 deemed eligible for release, he said.

Of the 66 deemed eligible for release, 33 have already been released and the other 33 are being processed, Coale said.

The cases of prisoners who might be eligible for release were placed at the top of the heap so they were considered first, Coal said.

Efforts to reach a probation officer to get numbers for the Middle District of Alabama, which includes Montgomery, were unsuccessful last week.

Just because a prisoner is eligible under the new guidelines, however, doesn't mean the judge will grant it.

"Even if a defendant is eligible for a sentence reduction -- because his sentencing range has been lowered by a retroactive Sentencing Guidelines amendment -- a reduction is not automatic," said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance. "Ultimately, only the court can make the decision whether to grant a sentence reduction."

In making the decision, the judge must consider statutory sentencing factors, such as mandatory minimum sentences, as well as the effect of any sentence reduction on public safety, Vance said. "The court may also consider the defendant's conduct while in prison," she said.

"Our office evaluates each request for a sentence reduction to determine whether we think the defendant is eligible for relief, and then whether we think the court should grant relief in light of the particular circumstances of the case," Vance said.

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