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Friday, September 5, 2014

Life Without Parole For Repeat Pot Offender

Great Grandfather
and Lifer Jeff Mizanskey
Missouri, like several other states, has a three strikes and you're out law.  That means on your third offense, the sentence is life without parole.

In the case of Jeff Mizanskey, all three of his convictions involved possession and distribution of marijuana.  In 1996, he was sentenced by a circuit court judge in Missouri on his last case -possession of 7-pounds of pot- to life without parole; the bullet, as we say in the industry.

Now, approaching two decades later, even the prosecutor who put him away is calling for his release.  As applied to Mizanskey, when Missouri's 3-strikes law is predicated on all-marijuana convictions, his life sentence does not seem fair.

Much of the perception of unfairness in Mizanskey's case stems from the evolution of our marijuana laws.  With two states legalizing recreational use and nearly half the other states, including Missouri, legalizing medical marijuana, a pot-related life sentence takes on a draconian flavor.

On the other hand, as my prosecutor friends would point out, this is the law that the Missouri legislature put on the books; federal sentencing guidelines are also very harsh.  When the legislatures pass the laws, there should be an obligation to follow them; typically, sentencing judges do.

Yet some sentences are so harsh, their inherent unfairness forces change.  This happened in Michigan to the so-called drug lifer laws of the 1980s.  Governor John Engler not only signed a law nullifying the drug lifer laws, the nullification included retroactive application to all inmates sentenced under the revoked law, making each lifer eligible for parole.

In Mizanskey's case, there is momentum for Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to grant his clemency petition.  There are believed to be approximately 20 people sentenced to life terms for marijuana-related convictions.

As the legalization of marijuana unfolds over time across our nation, these individuals stand-out as markers of a failed prohibition policy.  Following the letter of the law vs doing what is right under the circumstances is an age old struggle in our free society governed by laws.

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