FAMMIn early April, news emerged that 46-year-old fast food restaurant worker John Horner was sentenced to 25 years in prison for selling $1,800 worth of painkillers.
Sadly, the father of three is just one example of a drug addict put away for decades because of a mandatory minimum sentence.
A lot of drug crimes like Horner’s carry mandatory minimum sentences that force judges to give harsh punishments even if they want to show mercy to vulnerable defendants.
There’s been a push to do away with mandatory minimums, which critics call both unethical and expensive. Recently, a group of celebrities including the Kardashians, Demi Moore, and Jim Carrey called on President Obama to rethink the nation’s “enforcement-only War on Drugs.”
The advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums is trying to reform these Kafkaesque drug laws by telling the stories of families impacted by them. We asked FAMM to share some of the most outrageous sentences handed down.
Scott Earle got addicted to painkillers after a high school sports injury. As an adult, he was still an addict but managed to hold a full-time job at an auto dealership in Florida.
Earle went his local emergency room in 1995 for a painful diverticulitis attack and was given Vicodin. Days later, Earle met a beautiful woman at a bar who turned out to be a police informant.
She asked him to give her Vicodin for her back pain, and he eventually hooked her up with a friend of his who gave her 100 pills at a time.
The state of Florida initially passed mandatory minimums to target violent drug trafficking operations, FAMM's Florida director Gregory Newburn told Business Insider. This law has an unfair impact on people who sell painkillers, which come in pill form and weigh more than drugs like cocaine.
'What happens is it's almost universally the law of unintended consequences,' Newburn says.
The judge in Earle's case, Mark Speiser, seemed to agree his sentence was unfair. 'I have to express my deep concern about this particular situation,' Speiser said at sentencing, according to FAMM. 'This punishment does not fit the crime.'
When he was still a teenager in 1993, Ronald Evans got life in prison without parole after being dubbed a 'leader' of a conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine.
Evans was raised by a single mum in Norfolk, Va. and joined the drug conspiracy when he was just 15.
He started out as a 'lookout' who made $50 a day and later moved on to distributing drugs.
Prosecutors estimated the amount of drugs he was responsible for based on testimony from his co-defendants, and gave him the life sentence based on that amount and the assertion that he was the 'organiser' of the conspiracy. Evans, who's 39 now, has already spent the majority of his life behind bars.
When Telisha Watkins was 33 years old in 2007, she got a 20-year prison sentence for arranging a cocaine deal for an old neighbour who was actually a police informant.
Watkins thought the deal she was arranging just involved cocaine, but it turned out there was also crack in the package.
She was then given a sentence that was three times as severe as it would have been if she'd only arranged a cocaine sale, according to FAMM. Watkins also got a severe sentence because she had three prior drug convictions.
Watkins had a troubled life. She was addicted to drugs by the age of 14 and dropped out of high school after her freshman year because she was pregnant. Her brother was murdered in 1994, and she appears to have spent most of her life struggling with drug addiction.
Her projected release date is 2024. The dealer who actually sold the drugs was released from prison in March 2008.
Timothy Tyler got a mandatory life sentence for selling LSD back in 1994, after struggling with both mental illness and drug addiction.
Tyler got hooked on LSD himself when touring with the Grateful Dead after high school, according to FAMM. He was also hospitalized repeatedly for mental health problems.
After he was arrested for selling drugs with his father in 1992, a Florida judge was forced to give him the life sentence because he'd already been caught selling LSD twice before. Both of his prior convictions resulted in probation though.
Celestia Mixon was just 21 years old when she got a 15-year drug sentence for conspiracy to distribute meth and for having a firearm.
Celestia Mixon got a 15-year sentence in 2009 for meth and having a firearm.
She's an addict herself who started selling the drug to finance her own addiction. By the time she was sentenced in 2009, she'd only had two misdemeanours.
Mixon, who'd been hooked on meth since she was 15, started to pull her life together by the time her sentence came down. She'd gotten a job and quit drugs.
The judge handling her case couldn't consider those mitigating factors though because of mandatory minimums. The 15-year sentence was the shortest he was allowed to give under the law.
Sherman Chester got life in prison without the possibility of parole even though a judge said he didn't deserve it.
Sherman Chester, a Florida native, was indicted in April 1999 for taking part in a drug conspiracy with nine other people. Although he was only a street-level dealer, according to FAMM, he was held accountable for nearly the entire amount involved in the conspiracy -- four kilograms of heroin and 57.4 kilograms of cocaine.
Chester already had two drug convictions, so the judge had no choice but to give him life without parole. At his sentencing hearing, the judge said, 'This man doesn't deserve a life sentence,' according to FAMM.
Chester's mother had been living with cancer for years when he went to prison and died just five months after he began serving his sentence.
Jack Horner, a 46-year-old restaurant worker in Florida, got hooked on painkillers when he lost an eye in 2000.
Horner later sold $1800 worth of painkillers to a new 'friend' who turned out to be a police informant. Florida law required a minimum of 25 years in prison for his crime -- meaning the father of three will be 72 when he's finally released from prison.
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