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Another Federal Judge Refuses to Hear Drug Cases; Blasts Drug War's Ineffectiveness and Sentencing Guidelines


January 1995

U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin (Western District of New York) announced that he will no longer hear drug cases because he so strongly disagrees with the federal sentencing guidelines and believes that the nation's anti-drug programs do not work (Dan Herbeck, "Curtin Won't Hear Drug Cases," Buffalo News, Dec. 25, 1994, p. A1).

"This program we have of locking men and women away for 20 and 30-year sentences, it isn't working," Curtin said. "I don't see the deterrent value of these sentences. The kids on the street are still selling drugs and using guns."

Curtin also said that Congress should look at decriminalizing marijuana and spending more money on education and drug prevention programs. He pointed out the disparity between drug and violent crime sentences. "It's just very strange that you could have a system of justice where a drug crime is worth 30 years and manslaughter is worth five years," he said.

Curtin is a senior judge in Western New York. Since he is semi-retired, he has the privilege to choose what cases he wants to hear.

"I don't like the use of the word 'boycott.' I'm not going to be standing outside the courthouse with a protest sign every day. But I'm not going to accept any more drug case assignments, so if you want to call that a boycott, go ahead," he said.

"You don't even have to think of it in moral terms. In financial terms, it just isn't working," he said.

The federal sentencing guidelines restrict judges' power to sentence according to the defendant's criminal record, the amount of drugs involved in the offense, few factors surrounding the offense, and the level of involvement of the defendant in the offense.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission is considering substantial review of the current structure of the guidelines. The pending proposals were printed in the Jan. 9, 1995 edition of the Federal Register (Vol. 60, No. 5, Part II). A hearing will be held in March. Comments must be submitted by March 7, 1995. If you wish to testify, contact the U.S. Sentencing Commission, One Columbus Circle, NE, Suite 2-500, Washington, DC 20002-8002, Attention: Public Comment.