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5 People With More Time Left on Their Non-Violent Marijuana Sentences Than Amber Guyger Will Serve For Murdering Botham Jean In His Living Room — And What You Can Do to Fix the Problem

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When former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Botham Jean on October 3, 2019, the public reaction was a combination of relief and exasperation. The case starkly reflects the flaws in the current landscape of American criminal justice: Guyger, who is white, killed Jean, a 26-year-old black man, while he was relaxing after work in his living room. Guyger invoked Texas’ Stand Your Ground” law, claiming she was justifiably scared for her life when she wandered into his unlocked home after work, mistaking it for hers in the same apartment complex. 

The jury ultimately held her accountable for opening fire on her innocent and unsuspecting victim, while evidence and accusations of individual and systemic racism dominated the trial, as well as the sentencing reaction and aftermath. Critics of the American criminal justice system seethed at the outright sympathy shown to Guyger in the courtroom; the judge even gifted her with a Bible and a warm hug after the sentencing. Many see the case and aftermath (including the murder of key witness Joshua Brown days after the verdict) as an apropos example of the gun and police violence plaguing the US, and disproportionately affecting minority communities. More optimistic observers see the extremely rare conviction of an (albeit technically off-duty) officer for killing a citizen as a sign of progress toward police reform and accountability.

Still others have focused on the length of the sentence. Guyger’s 10-year sentence is well below the average sentence for murder in Texas, and more infuriatingly, far less than what many are serving for nonviolent drug crimes throughout the country, including and especially cannabis possession and distribution. 

While some may assume that cannabis legalization and decriminalization automatically bring freedom and expungement to those convicted for marijuana crimes” in the jurisdictions that have approved legal reforms, that has not been entirely the case. Illinois, for example, has included release and expungement in their legislation, but in other states like California, those with cannabis smears on their records have had to apply for expungement or reductions to which the new law entitles them. There are still a number of people with 10 years or more left on their sentences for cannabis, with at least 67 of those being life sentences.

The five prisoners briefly profiled here are individuals whose cases are representative of the harsh and ongoing inhumanity that far too many prisoners of the War on Drugs” are still subjected to. 

Michael Pelletier: Double Life Sentence for Disabled Man Overlooked By Obama

Michael Pelletiers case is rare for the specifics of his situation and disability, but not in its arbitrary cruelty. Pelletier lost the use of his legs at 11, and was already serving a life sentence in a wheelchair when minor pot charges in the State of Maine were upgraded to a life sentence on federal charges after he conspired” to smuggle larger quantities from Canada into Maine. Pelletier’s case was not reviewed by the Obama administration, despite that the administration had committed to reviewing every case (including Pelletier’s) that qualified for all Justice Department factors for review, such as demonstrating good conduct in prison and having no history of violence prior to or during his current term of imprisonment. Civilized has previously drawn attention to Pelletier’s plight continuing despite Maine’s legalization of recreational cannabis in 2016. 

Sign Michael’s Petition for Clemency

Diana Marquez: Matriarch Serving Three Decades For First Offense 

Diana Marquez is a 62-year-old mother of five and grandmother of sixteen who was given a 30-year sentence for conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana and money laundering related to her husband’s unlicensed pot business. She was not accused of having any criminal involvement with his business, beyond using part of the proceeds to buy a property. It was her first offense. Marquez has been locked up since June 2007. 

Sign Diana’s Petition for Clemency

Pedro Moreno: Wrong Legal Advice Leads To Life 

Pedro Moreno was advised by his counsel that if he plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and money laundering, he would receive no more than 20 years. The lawyer was wrong, and Moreno and his four brothers were each handed a life sentence despite the fact that it was also his first offense. His brothers all received clemency from President Obama in 2016, but Pedro’s was denied without explanation. A father of three and grandfather of five, Moreno has been in prison since 1996. Over the 22 years and counting that he has been in prison, his wife has died and his daughter got married. He was not allowed to attend either the wedding or funeral. Moreno is hoping President Trump will reconsider his case and excellent prison conduct record.

Sign Pedro’s Petition for Clemency

Ferrell Scott: Criminalized Family Man Serving Life Without Parole

When Ferrell Scott was busted in Texas for possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana in 2007, national attitudes had already been changing toward cannabis for some time. Unfortunately for Scott, he was still handed a life sentence without parole, partially due to having had multiple minor nonviolent legal issues in the past. Scott’s first clemency request was rejected by the Obama administration in 2016, even though one of the prosecutors on his case wrote a letter of support. Scott has three children and four grandchildren, and had been the glue that held the family together” according to his niece. 

Sign Ferrell’s Petition for Clemency

Corvain Cooper: Victimized By The Drug War and The Supreme Court, Left Behind By California Cannabis and Justice Reform

Corvain Cooper has been particularly victimized by the senselessly racist laws and policies that have dominated not just the country, but the liberal cannabis capital of California. The devoted father of two daughters has been in prison since 2014 with a state sentence of life without parole for distributing marijuna and money laundering. Cooper had a prior record for possession of marijuana, and under California’s Three Strikes law — another relic of the tough on crime era — automatically triggered a life sentence without parole. Cooper’s case has received significant attention due to reforms in both the Three Strikes law and California cannabis laws, including that marijuana possession was a felony in the state until Proposition 47 in 2014, and of course Proposition 64 which mostly legalized cannabis in 2016. Despite these changes and the clear injustice of his sentence, the Supreme Court recently denied Cooper’s appeal. His last hope is clemency, for which he has re-filed. 

Sign Corvain’s Petition for Clemency

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