On Oct. 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, based in St. Louis, issued an opinion in a case involving an Iowa man, Edward Brewer, who was convicted of possessing and selling crack cocaine. The Court of Appeals denied Brewer's appeal of U.S. District Judge Linda Reade's sentence of nearly 31 years in federal prison.
Etc.: Disparity driven by which side of highway crime took place
Des Moines Register
Editor's note: On Oct. 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, based in St. Louis, issued an opinion in a case involving an Iowa man, Edward Brewer, who was convicted of possessing and selling crack cocaine. The Court of Appeals denied Brewer's appeal of U.S. District Judge Linda Reade's sentence of nearly 31 years in federal prison. Eighth Circuit Judge Myron Bright dissented, saying the great disparity in sentencing practices between two judges in the same state was too great. Following is an excerpt of his dissent:"Who could have guessed that President Eisenhower's decision nearly sixty years ago to create a national system of interstate highways would have an effect on sentencing in Iowa today? Well, it has. In the Northern District of Iowa, cases arising on one side of the interstate [I-35] go to one district court judge while cases arising on the other go to a second judge. And one active judge uses a 1:1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine when sentencing violators of crack cocaine laws while the other follows the sentencing guidelines - which here applied a 33:1 ratio. So in the Northern District of Iowa, the location of the crime relative to the interstate is a significant factor in crack cocaine sentencing. In my view, the difference in sentences between similar offenders should not depend on which side of the interstate a crime was committed or where the offender was arrested.In footnotes, Judge Bright added the following: "Brewer, by the way, was 32 years old when sentenced, so he will be out of prison sometime near 2040, when he is 60 years old. At the current cost of incarceration, about $26,000 per year, taxpayers will have spent around $780,000 to imprison Brewer." And: "By way of comparison, for the same amount of powder cocaine, the [sentencing] guidelines recommend a sentence of approximately eight to nine years."
"For Brewer's crime of possessing, conspiring, and delivering approximately 150 grams of crack cocaine, the [federal sentencing] guidelines recommended a sentence of 30 years to life. That's the same recommendation as if Brewer had committed second-degree murder. Unfortunately, equating crack cocaine with murder is not uncommon. See Robert Perkinson, "Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire" ("In 1995, the average federal prison term for a crack offense surpassed that of murder."). Brewer requested a variance from the harsh crack cocaine guidelines on the basis of the disparity with powder cocaine and he cited a decision by Judge [Mark] Bennett of the Northern District of Iowa who utilizes a 1:1 crack/powder ratio.
"[Judge Linda Reade] imposed a 370-month sentence. That's 30 years and 10 months. The district court denied Brewer's request for a variance, stating 'I did consider and reject the request for a variance based on the disparity in punishment between crack cocaine and cocaine. As I looked at the statutory factors under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), I determined that, on balance, this sentence was not out of the range of reasonableness and is fully supported by the evidence.'
"I believe the district court's decision does not reflect a reasoned and informed exercise of discretion. The district court cavalierly applied a guideline [that] treats Brewer like a murderer, and results in unwarranted intra-district disparity. Sadly, the interstate and corresponding judicial assignment made a substantial difference at Brewer's sentencing."
Was Sholom Rubashkin singled out for a harsh sentence?
His crimes were committed in Iowa's Northern District, just like Brewer's were. That district has one fulltime federal judge, Linda Reade.
Reade almost always follows US Sentencing Guidelines.
Those guidelines called for Rubashkin's sentence to be between 23 and 30 years, plus any additional time added in for other crimes. He was sentenced to 25 years plus 2 extra years for perjuring himself in court.
Brewer's crimes called for 30 years to life. Reade gave him almost 31 years.
Whatever you think about Reade's sentencing and Rubashkin's predicament, one thing should be clear: Sholom Rubashkin was treated no differently than other criminals in the Northern District of Iowa.