U.S. Attorney: Drugs More Important Than Murder

When the same man is wanted for both federal and state crimes the feds are in the driver’s seat.  U.S. Attorney for Colorado Troy Eid, an appointee of President Bush, recently decided to make his drug charges against a defendant a higher priority than the attempt murder case against the same man brought by district attorney Mitch Morrisey, an elected Democrat.
Murder victim Kalonniann Clark

According to the Rocky Mountain News, a Denver judge had to dismiss attempted murder charges against Brian Hicks last Friday, to avoid violating Hick’s right to a speedy trial, because the U.S. Attorneys’ office would not make him available to state authorities.

Hicks, 28, was supposed to face a jury this week in the 2005 attempted murder of Kalonniann Clark outside a Denver nightclub. Clark was killed in a subsequent shooting a week before she was set to testify against Hicks.

But Hicks is also a key defendant in an ongoing federal prosecution of what investigators say is a major drug ring.

The attempted murder charges are not clearly barred from being reinstated by state prosecutors, because they were dismissed before Hick’s right to a speedy trial lapsed and before a jury was sworn. But, the move possibly gives Hicks a speedy trial case to litigate if he is retried. Colorado has no statute of limitations for attempted murder cases.

Also, every passing month fades the memories of witnesses who may need to testify at trial, making it harder to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Colorado also has a poor record of protecting witnesses in gang related cases from being killed before trial, so that delay puts with witness in the attempted murder case, which was ready to go to trial, at risk for their own lives.  Delay of the attempted murder case also leaves the family of the now deceased victim in limbo, while there are no identifiable victims waiting for closure in the drug conspiracy case.

Apparently, Troy Eid thinks that busting drug dealers is more important that giving state prosecutors their best shot at convicting someone of attempted murder in a case where one key witness has already been killed.

Why Eid thinks Hicks can’t provide that testimony after his trial on state attempted murder charges, which are ready to go to trial now, is unclear.  The one witness unlikely to be killed pending trial is Hicks, because he will be incarcated in a relatively secure facility.

Eid, as a federal prosecutor, doesn’t have the power to grant Hicks immunity from the state charges, without cooperation from the Denver District Attorney whose pleas to the state judge in the case seem to indicate that Denver is none too happy about federal interference in this case.  So, leaving the state can unresolved and annoying the Denver prosecutor’s office may actually undermine Eid’s power to secured cooperation from his witness to testify at trial.

Criminal Sentencing Priorities

If Eid does view drug dealing as a more serious crime than attempted murder, his priorities match those of federal law, and the law of some states.  As noted by the Denver Post the federal drug charges carry a longer potential sentence than the state attempted murder charge:

Hicks faces life in prison if convicted of the federal drug charges, and he would have faced a maximum of 54 years if convicted of attempted murder and gun charges in state court.

Hicks was charged in state court with attempted murder, illegal discharge of a firearm and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.  The latter charges do involve a statute of limitations that may lapse even if charges are refiled.

Hicks is charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute.

The fact that Hicks was involved in dealing crack cocaine, rather than powder cocaine makes it considerably easier for federal prosecutors to secured a long sentence if there is a conviction, because the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines treat quantities as crack cocaine identically to quantities 100 times as large of powder cocaine.  Like the overwhelming majority of crack cocaine cases prosecuted in federal court, the defendant, Brian Hicks, is a young black man.

Defendant Brian Hicks

In contrast, Colorado state criminal statutes usually impose considerably higher sentences for violent crimes than for drug crimes, and has more limited habitual criminal sentencing than either the federal system or states like California, famous for its “three strikes and you’re out” law. 

The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines frequently require drug offenders who have harmed no one to serve sentences much longer than murders. 

For example, 27 year old Weldon Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison for distributing a total of 24 ounces marijuana spread on two different occasion for $350 each, while having a gun on his person that was not used or displayed, and a third count of having guns in his home illegally.  The sentence was upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in January of 2006.

Similarly, Eddie Denton, Jr., age 70, was sentenced to life in prison in federal court for:

[C]onspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack, 500 grams of more of cocaine, and some marijuana, within 1000 feet of two playgrounds. He was also observed possessing, but not brandishing or firing a handgun, in and around Waterloo, Iowa.

The sentence was affirmed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2006, despite that fact that none of his three equally culpable co-conspirators, who pleaded guilty, received more than a fifteen year sentence.

Similarly, in Arizona, possession of three pictures depicting child pornography, without any proof of involvement in its production or distribution of the materials, carries a mandatory minimum 30 years sentence, five years longer than the 25 year sentence for murder in that state.

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