Apologetic Judge Stiffens Crack Sentence
A judge who has bucked federal sentencing guidelines in crack cocaine cases, arguing that they discriminate against blacks, reluctantly obeyed a higher court’s instructions Monday.
But U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom apologized and told two brothers as he sentenced them that he would continue working to change the guidelines to allow more lenient terms.
Strom sentenced Delano Maxwell, 36, and Hassan Majied, 29, each to at least 30 years in prison for crack cocaine distribution. They and two men sentenced to lesser charges are black.
He initially had sentenced them to 20 years each, but the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to him, ruling he could not give sentences more lenient than the guidelines.
Strom has criticized the federal sentencing guidelines because they call for longer sentences for convictions involving the less-expensive crack form of cocaine than those required for offenses involving powder cocaine.
Strom contends the guidelines are discriminatory because most crack defendants are black. Statistics show 9 of 10 crack defendants in Nebraska are black.
Strom had delayed resentencing the men in hopes that Congress would adopt new sentencing guidelines, but Congress rejected the recommendations.
“I don’t believe I have the authority to depart downward because Congress rejected the rational and reasonable request of the Sentencing Commission,” Strom said in court. “If I thought I had the authority to depart from these sentencing guidelines, I would.”
Maxwell urged Strom to continue his fight against the guidelines.
“You can’t downward depart? I don’t understand that. I really don’t,” Maxwell said. “For more than 200 years, a judge has been able to use his discretion in sentencing. How can you justify not giving me a chance? You’ve got a lot of people who agree with your view of justice.”
Strom commended Maxwell for his argument and said he would continue his efforts to change the guidelines.
Maxwell and Majied were charged with Martin Lewis, 27, and Chester Davis, 27, in an April, 1991, indictment. Lewis and Davis were considered lesser players and were given 120-month sentences.