Pubdate: Wed, 26 Mar 2008
Source: Capital Times, The  (WI)
Copyright: 2008 The Capital Times
Author: Kevin Murphy
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


District Judge Barbara Crabb took nearly eight years off a prison 
sentence Tuesday for a Madison man convicted of crack cocaine 
delivery, using new guidelines that lower penalties for crack cocaine 
toward those imposed on powder cocaine offenders.

District Judge John Shabaz had sentenced Dennis Dickinson, 35, to 17 
years in prison in June 2006 for intent to distribute more than five 
grams of crack cocaine, possession of handgun and obstruction of justice.

Last fall, the Federal Sentencing Commission lowered the penalties in 
response to criticisms that crack cocaine defendants, who were 
predominately African American males, were treated harsher than 
powder cocaine defendants, who were more frequently white males.

Crabb also sentenced Dickinson in the middle of the new guideline 
(97-121 months) after Shabaz gave Dickinson a sentence at the top of 
the old range (168-210 months).

Dickinson is also scheduled to be sentenced today in Dane County 
Circuit Court on heroin possession and reckless injury charges.

Dickinson's sentence reduction to nine years and seven months may not 
present the best example of how the lesser crack penalties are 
playing out in federal court because his cooperation with authorities 
also earned him a time served reduction.

Depending on the source, there may be 120 to more than 200 crack 
defendants eligible for re-sentencing in federal court for the 
Western District of Wisconsin as the Sentencing Commission made the 
new lower guidelines retroactive.

Defense attorney Chris Van Wagner said lowering the crack penalties 
addressed more of a cultural than racial situation. Crack cocaine 
sales increased in inner city neighborhoods during the late 1980s and 
early 1990s, creating addicts and providing a lot of income for 
street gangs before the white middle class became aware of it.

Madison has seen its share of crack cases as the federal Weed and 
Seed Program focused law enforcement resources on street dealers in 
Madison's poorer neighborhoods, said Van Wagner who was a federal 
prosecutor here.

Investigators brought their suspects to federal prosecutors knowing 
the penalties would be more harsh, even "draconian," said Van Wagner. 
"In the 90s, there was an emphasis on crack prosecutions of street 
gangs as Madison appeared to be a destination for crack brought in by 
Chicago gang members to the Madison projects."

Law enforcement made cases on "small time" crack dealers. Those 
possessing five to 10 grams could be sentenced to five to 10 years in 
prison, Van Wagner said.

In the last five years, the U.S. Attorney's office refocused its 
efforts on kingpins rather than street dealers, "which makes a great 
deal of sense," said Van Wagner.

Under the old guidelines, a person possessing one gram of crack 
cocaine would receive a sentence equal to a defendant possessing 100 
grams of powder cocaine.

In dollars and sense, it didn't add to Van Wagner and other defense attorneys.

"When $5,000 worth of crack would net double or triple the sentence 
in federal court for $5,000 worth of power cocaine, something had to 
change," he said.

The federal court here is handling a number of cases where the 
parties stipulate to the new guideline punishment or file motions and 
brief their case like Dickinson did, said Federal Magistrate Theresa Owen.

Defendants closest to a release date from prison are being given 
priority in being considered for re-sentencing, said Assistant U.S. 
Attorney Tim O'Shea.

Attorneys in the federal defender office and prosecutors in the U.S. 
Attorney's office were not available for immediate comment Tuesday.
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