Although more judges across the United States have changed their opinion in regard to dealing with small-time marijuana offenders, many have not.
Perhaps the latest casualty in the War on Drugs is Ronald Tyrone Hammond Jr., who was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for possession of less than six grams of marijuana.
According to a report in The Baltimore Sun, Hammond got popped in 2012 after an argument with his girlfriend ended up being settled by a couple of local cops. During a frisk, officers discovered a small baggie of weed in his pocket, barely enough for a joint, and took him to jail for misdemeanor possession.
When Hammond showed up in court to answer the charges, District Judge Askew Gatewood stared deeply into the eyes of prosecutors and essentially called them fools for wanting to lock a man up for less than a joint.
“Why would I want to spend taxpayers’ money putting his little raggedy butt in jail—feeding him, clothing him, cable TV, Internet, prayer, medical expense, clothing—on $5 worth of weed?” Gatewood asked. It was here the judge urged Hammond to take a plea of “guilty” and a $100 fine in order to get the ridiculous case out of both of their lives as quickly as possible.
He took the deal.
Unfortunately, the full scope of Hammond’s cutthroat situation was not realized before he was persuaded to bargain with the court. Because of a 2009 conviction over a $40 crack deal, he was thrown under the judicial bus and sent off to serve the next two decades behind bars.
The Sun reported that Hammond, like a lot of young people, experienced some indiscretion in his early years that led to him getting busted several times for possession of illegal drugs, specifically cocaine. In 2009, his state of checkered affairs took a turn for the worse after he was arrested for selling $40 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover officer. This, unfortunately, positioned Hammond in the ranks of a low-life drug dealer, as far as the courts were concerned, forcing him to answer to a ruthless judge on charges of distribution.
Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart-Mays, reportedly known for her strictness, appeared hell-bent on throwing Hammond in the slammer. But his attorney, David Putzi, served his purpose and managed to negotiate his client’s probationary freedom.
“I’ll give him 20 [years] suspended,” Stewart-Mayes said. “He gets every day of it if he violates.”
After the marijuana debacle in 2012, Hammond received a notice to appear before Judge Stewart-Mays to answer his probation violation. The prosecution asked the court to revoke his probation and “impose a substantial portion” of what was left in his 19 year, 11 month and 29 day sentence.
Although Hammond’s new attorney, Lisa Gladden, pointed out to the court that aside from his marijuana offense he had been on his best behavior, the judge disputed the argument.
“This court understands that marijuana is not the crime of the century,” Stewart-Mays said. “And the court understands that somehow, some way, not that I agree or disagree… that marijuana has become a little more accepted. However, when you are on probation, your freedoms are restricted. So what may be commonly accepted for one, you can’t do, because you’re on probation.”
Even after Hammond finished pleading for the mercy of the court, Judge Stewart-Mays sentenced him to serve out the remainder of his 20-year sentence—double the length of the maximum sentence an individual can receive for killing someone while driving under the influence of an inebriating substance.
“Sending somebody to prison for $40 of cocaine and not enough marijuana to build a joint seems unfathomable,” Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said. Especially, since the Maryland Legislature recently passed a law making the possession of anything less than 10 grams of pot a civil infraction with a $100 fine penalty.
Even in the case of the crack cocaine, as Reason’s Jacob Sullum revealed in a recent column, Hammond would have had to sell close to an ounce of crack in order to even receive a five-year mandatory minimum under federal statutes. What nailed him to the cross, in this case, is the state of Maryland enforcing a maximum penalty of 20 years for anyone caught selling up to 50 grams of crack.
Hammond, who is currently 31-years-old, is not scheduled for release until 2028. Updated reports indicate that he is supposed to go before the court sometime this week in hopes they will overturn the marijuana conviction. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen because Baltimore’s state’s attorney does not believe he has enough grounds for an appeal.