I hate judges like this. They love playing God and setting people up to fail. And I hate a system that's set up to let them do it. Via Justin Fenton in the Baltimore Sun:
When Ronald Hammond appeared in a Baltimore courtroom on a charge of possessing 5.9 grams of marijuana, the judge scoffed at the case.District Judge Askew Gatewood told the prosecutor that "5.9 grams won't roll you a decent joint," according to a transcript of the 2012 case. "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 encouraged Hammond to plead guilty and said he would let him off with a small fine.But months later, the case would land Hammond in prison for 20 years.
Hammond was on probation at the time, for selling $40 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover officer, resulting in a distribution charge. Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart-Mays gave Hammond a suspended sentence of 20 years in that case, warning that if he violated probation he would face the whole term.
Hammond, 31, is in prison with a projected release date of 2028. On Friday, he will petition the court to overturn his marijuana conviction, arguing that his constitutional rights were violated. The Baltimore state's attorney's office contends in court documents that he has no grounds to appeal.
Mary Price, general counsel for the drug-reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said his sentence was "extraordinarily punitive."
"Sending somebody to prison for $40 of cocaine and not enough marijuana to build a joint seems unfathomable," Price said.
"This case exemplifies how the criminal justice system works against itself," said Hammond's new attorney, Gabriela Hopkins.
Since Hammond's marijuana arrest, the General Assembly passed legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession of less than 10 grams. The House of Delegates passed a bill this year excluding marijuana as a possible probation violation, but the measure died in the Senate. But legislative changes would not affect Hammond's case retroactively.
The current maximum penalty for possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less is a $100 fine.The 20-year term Hammond received is the same as Tavon White, the Black Guerrilla Family gang leader, got for attempted murder and orchestrating a racketeering conspiracy at the city jail. It is twice the maximum penalty for killing someone while driving under the influence.
"A chill went from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes," Hammond recalled of the sentencing, in a phone interview from the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup. "I'm standing there like, 'This isn't happening.'"