Back in the spring of 1998, two young brothers, twins, were gearing up for graduation with political science degrees. They had plans to attend law school together, and from their go into practice with one another.
It was not to be.
Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the two were swept up in a wave of anti-drug sentiment, accompanied by harsh drug laws that unfairly targeted and punished young, minority males.
Their mother was recently profiled in The Washington Post for activism efforts to educate the community on unfair sentencing laws and other aspects of the D.C. criminal justice system.
It started when a nearby auto repair shop business owner had confessed to dealing drugs. He implicated the twins in a conspiracy plot that involved some 500 grams of crack cocaine and 10 kilos of the powder form of the drug.
U.S. Marshals arrived at the door of the home the two shared. The home was searched. There were no drugs. There was no money.
And yet, the two were convicted in a joint trial, with one receiving 15.5 years and the other receiving 19.5 years.
The drug dealer who had implicated them? The stiff anti-drug laws in the 1980s meant that his "substantial assistance" to the government in those cases meant he got a major break on his own sentence.
Laws governing the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine crimes were handed down back when the crack epidemic was sweeping the country.
Despite the fact that these two were college-educated, had no criminal backgrounds, the evidence against them slim and the witness against them questionable, the minimum mandatory guidelines meant they would not walk out of prison in under 15 years.
There was a law passed in 1994 that would have allowed for significantly-reduced sentences for offenders who committed first-time crimes. However, that would have required that the brothers give information that was "complete and truthful," according to the government's definition. Problem was, the brothers had always maintained that the truth was, they were innocent.
The twins' mother decided she could not rest until wrongs like this were righted. Not only did she want her sons free, but she wanted to ensure such unfair sentencing wouldn't continue to hurt others in the future.
She told her story over and over again - with the Open Society Institute, the Justice Policy Alliance and the Sentencing Project. She joined Families Against Mandatory Minimums. She lobbied Congress for a change in the laws. She hosted her own online radio program from her kitchen, detailing all the injustices of the day stemming from minimum mandatory guidelines.
Then, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal judges should not be subjected to mandatory sentencing guidelines. Two years later, another legislative tweak in the law with regard to crack cocaine sentencing meant that her sons were able to have their sentenced reduced by 3 and 4 years respectively.
But it wasn't until 2010 that Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which put sentencing for crack cocaine offenses more in line with others of equal caliber.
By that time, however, one of the twins was already at home and another was soon to arrive.
Now, the pair are working to rebuild their lives. They have found jobs. They are slowly trying to pick up the pieces.
Meanwhile, their mother continues their activism, refusing to shy away now that her sons have returned.
We applaud her continued dedication.
While the sentencing laws have changed dramatically, drug offenses still carry significant weight. Hiring an experienced lawyer is critical in these cases, where you could still potentially be facing years behind bars.
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