Social media erupted in shock and outrage last Friday when federal Judge Katherine Forrest sentenced Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht to Life Without the Possibility of Parole for founding and operating Silk Road’s Bitcoin funded drug market. The bulk of the comments about the verdict ran along the lines of “How can a nonviolent computer person get a life sentence when even murderers don’t serve that long?” Or, “If he was no different than any other drug dealer, why give him life?”
These sentiments offer proof of what the CAN-DO Foundation (Clemency for All Nonviolent Drug Offenders), has been saying for years -- the public is woefully ill informed regarding our federal sentencing policy for drug offenders. Even minor players regularly receive life without parole (LWOP) sentences for doing FAR less than what Ulbricht did in running a billion-dollar, anonymous drug black market that made buying illegal drugs almost as easy as making an Amazon.com purchase.
CAN-DO officers, who work to support clemency efforts for prisoners serving LWOP for victimless marijuana-only conspiracy offenses, say that life sentences for nonviolent drug crimes have been going on in the USA for decades and are still a relatively common practice.
Some of the men the CAN-DO Foundation works with had little to no involvement in the actual crime that earned them their life sentences. For instance, Craig Cesal, a first time offender, did nothing more than repair the trucks that had been used to haul marijuana after the smugglers left them abandoned and in disrepair.