12/08/13 Jamie Fellner

Century of Lies

Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch re forced plea bargains, Tony Poppa of DPA re his 15 to life, Prison phone company ripoff, CBS Denver Rpt on massive electricy used in growing, light salesman offers saving, big pot party in Seattle, TV's "the Doctors" for med cannabis

Audio file


Century of Lies / December 8, 2013


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Please put your ears on. We’ve got a great show lined up here.


JAMIE FELLNER: My name is Jamie Fellner. I’m Senior Advisor of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch.

DEAN BECKER: Just yesterday I was looking at a interview we had done about rape abuse in our prisons but there’s an abuse that goes on even before trial in many cases here in the U.S. Do you want to talk about your recent article?

JAMIE FELLNER: There are a lot problems with the U.S. criminal justice system long before anybody is even sent to prison. One of those is the plea bargaining system which resolves most cases.

In federal drug cases, for example, 97% of all cases end with a plea agreement. Only 3% of defendants go to trial. The reason there is so few trials is fairly obvious. Defendants don’t want to take the risk of a much, much higher sentence if they go to trial than if they plea.

Prosecutors armed with mandatory-minimum sentences can essentially force defendants into accepting a plea. As the Godfather would say they make an offer which you can’t refuse. You can either take a plea for 10 years or you can go to prison for life or you can take a plea for 10 years or go to prison for 45 years.

The gap between what the sentence would be if you plead and what it would be if you go to trial is simply extraordinary.

DEAN BECKER: Does this not result from the barrage of mandatory-minimum sentencing and all of that which increases the amount of jail time people could face which has led to this extraordinary 97% plea bargain rate?

JAMIE FELLNER: Absolutely. What the mandatory-minimums do, among many other things, is they transfer sentencing power from judges to prosecutors.

Prosecutors dictate your sentence by what they charge. They can say, “Look, if you don’t accept this plea we’re going to increase the charges.”

Congress has given them plenty of ways to do that so, yes, judges are essentially bystanders in a criminal justice system that is run by and dominated by prosecutors.

DEAN BECKER: Continued in this report you’ve got a line here that says the average sentence for drug offenders who plead guilty was 5 years 4 months, for those convicted after trial the average sentence was 16 years.

JAMIE FELLNER: Yes, that’s just for the average sentences – an 11 year difference - which is just astonishing.

DEAN BECKER: It is. It seems to have some relationship to the inquisition of old, “Tell us what you know and we won’t dunk you.”

JAMIE FELLNER: [laughs] Well, it’s certainly true that prosecutors in essence believe that everybody that they are prosecuting is guilty and they have forgotten that under the principles that are supposed to operate in our criminal justice system a defendant is innocent until proven guilty and that the government bares the proof.

You have to plead without even seeing the evidence against you. Prosecutors will say, “Well, you know what you did.” Forgetting that they have the burden of proof.

One of the things that’s quite troubling about this is when you have a criminal justice system in which 97% of the defendants plea and across the country - even in all state cases as well as federal it’s 95% - prosecutors don’t ever have to be put to the proof. It’s an unhealthy system that puts so much power in the hands of prosecutors and yet doesn’t have their confidence, in essence, tested before a judge, before a jury in a trial setting.

There’s a real lack of incentive for prosecutors to make sure they’ve marshaled all the evidence lawfully and legally and that it’s all there because they know the case is going to plea out.

DEAN BECKER: We’re speaking with Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch.

Jamie, the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, has made some rather profound statements in the last year or two talking about the need to reign in the prosecutors and try to deny some of them from using the mandatory-minimums so severely, correct?

JAMIE FELLNER: Yes and no. He has focused on two things. One, really low-level drug offenders who fall within a certain category shouldn’t be charged with offenses carrying mandatory-minimum sentences but there are plenty of loopholes that prosecutors can use to avoid that directive. The Attorney General has also said that prosecutors shouldn’t seek sentencing enhancements to increase those mandatory sentences unless the severity of the case warrants it.

Again, there are so many loopholes in the over broad language that any prosecutor who wants seek a sentencing enhancement can. There’s no remedy if a prosecutor doesn’t follow directives. You can’t say to a court, “Hey, in this case the prosecutor is charging me with something that Holder wouldn’t approve of.”

The judge can’t do anything about it. Holder has not spoken out about the need to curb prosecutorial discretion in the context of plea bargaining. He has not acknowledge what is I think acknowledged by everybody in the system that there is this huge gap between the sentences if you plead vs. going to trial and that there is no way that that gap can be justified.

DEAN BECKER: I guess we don’t have the stats for how this is implemented or how this is carried on within the state systems...

JAMIE FELLNER: No, we don’t.

DEAN BECKER: Your report talks about this situation at the federal level and I know that in Texas some 90% of drug cases are plea bargains as well. It’s just a hammer that they wield, correct?

JAMIE FELLNER: Everybody that I talk to who has familiarity with state systems say that it is similar in state system – that there is these huge power that prosecutors have to force you to plead. However, I gather that in state systems there is a lot more kind of haggling between...there is a little more leeway for defense lawyers to try to get something that benefits their defendant. There’s not as much leeway in the federal system.

I wish we could do a report on every state because, again, I don’t think the right to trial should be given up just because you feel that there might be a huge penalty if you do go to trial.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we’ve been speaking with Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch.

Jamie, is there a website where folks could learn more about this report?

JAMIE FELLNER: Yes, http://hrw.org they can get the report there. We’ve done quite a bit of work, as you know, on the U.S. criminal justice system and human rights problems in that system.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, Jamie, thank you so much.



DEAN BECKER: Alright as Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch has indicated there is a broad scope. There is a national ramifications from this situation and here to give us a specific, individual example of how this can and does unfold is a gentleman who works for the Drug Policy Alliance my friend, Mr. Tony Papa. How are you doing, sir?

TONY PAPA: Hey Dean. It’s a pleasure to be on.

DEAN BECKER: You even wrote a book in this regard. Tell the folks a little bit about that book.

TONY PAPA: I wrote a memoir, “15 to Life: How I paid my way to freedom” and it’s a story of what I went through in regards to a drug sale in 1985. I made the biggest mistake of my life. Got involved with drug activity. For $500 I delivered this envelope that contained 4 ounces of cocaine.

I walked into a police sting operation. I did everything I could do wrong. Eventually they sentenced me to 15 years to life. At the Sing Sing prison I discovered my talent as an artist literally painting my way to freedom when I painted a self-portrait in 1988. It appeared at the Museum for American Arts. I got a lot of publicity and the Governor granted me executive clemency.

DEAN BECKER: That’s an admirable thing that has happened but let’s tie into what Miss Fellner was talking about and that is how did you wind up getting that 15 year sentence?

TONY PAPA: During the process before trial, during the hearing process I was out on bail for one year and at that time the district attorney said what was offered to me was 15 to life.

After one year they came and said, “Look, we know you’re not a drug dealer but you have to do some time. We’ll give you an offer of 3 to life.”

At that time I was desperate. I didn’t want to go to prison and leave my wife and young daughter so I exercised my constitutional right and went to trial and actually got found guilty right away and got 5 times more sentence than I offered of 3 to life so I got a 15 to life sentence.

DEAN BECKER: Tony yours is not a unique case. It is ...

TONY PAPA: No, it happens all the time. People who choose to exercise their constitutional rights to go to trial are punished. Their charges are trumped up and you wind up getting...in her report, Fellner’s report in the federal system an average of 3 times the amount.

I, in state court system, got 5 times the amount if I would have taken the 3 year plea deal.

DEAN BECKER: This is supposed to punish you. This is supposed make you change your ways but the fact of the matter is it wasn’t just you that was punished by this sentence, was it?

TONY PAPA: No. I found out from that point that prison does not end at the prison wall. It goes beyond the wall – family members, loved ones. My daughter was totally traumatized by the whole situation when she was ...I left her when she was 7-years-old.

She never recovered. She came to visit me for about 5 years. She went through unbelievable times where she was searched, physically searched, psychological damaged, traumatized...so traumatized by the prison experience that she couldn’t visit me any longer.

It ruined my whole relationship and even today we don’t have a relationship because of what happened to me in prison. I got out 17 years ago. She never recovered from it.

DEAN BECKER: I just want to say that because of your work and the work of all the good folks at the Drug Policy Alliance the truth of this matter is starting to circulate, to percolate and hopefully begin to change.

Do you want to point them to your article there and some closing thoughts, please.

TONY PAPA: I just wrote a piece in the Huffington Post titled, “I turned down 3 years in prison and ended up with a 15 to life sentence.” Which is also published on Alternet and Counterpunch at the same title.

Basically it’s a story I wrote about the Human Rights report titled, “An offer you can’t refuse.” And talked about my personal experience and how I ended up getting a tremendous sentence for a non-violent drug offense and I was punished for exercising my constitutional rights to go to trial.


DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy of http://prisonprofiteers.org


REPORTER: Think your phone company charges too much. Try Global Tel*Link, the biggest phone company for prisoners and their families. Global Tel*Link makes more than 500 million a year charging sky high rates to the very people who are least able to pay.

KENNY DAVIS: My name is Kenny. I’m 9. [showing pictures] Here’s me, here’s my mom and here’s my dad. He’s tall and he’s funny. He is in jail.

REPORTER: Do you get to visit him a lot?


LaTONYA DAVIS: My son’s father is in Hartoment County CCA. We can’t make the commute as often to see his dad because the commute is almost a 4 hour drive. Phone calls are a problem because they cost too much and I have other bills.

I’m a single parent and service provider we use is Global Tel*Link.

MEL MOTEL: What they do is they enter into contracts with the state prisons, county jails, detention centers and prisoners and their families have no choice but to make calls through Global Tel*Link.

REPORTER: I want to put this into a little perspective here. A call via the private company Global Tel*Link costs $1.13 per minute – that’s about 17 bucks for a 15 minute call.

REPORTER: $17 just to hear a loved one’s voice while everyone else can talk to people across the globe for next to nothing. How does Global Tel*Link get away with? By rigging the system. It gets contracts by giving kickbacks to the prisons – the bigger the kickback (called commission) the more likely the prison is to give the contract to Global Tel*Link. The cost gets passed on to families through high prices.

REPORTER: [talking to Kenny] How often would you talk to him if you could? Would you talk to him if you could?

KENNY DAVIS: Every week because we never get to spend any time together.

MEL MOTEL: The more contact that prisoners have with people on the outside (support networks like family and friends) the more likely they are to succeed both in prison and when they get out.

REPORTER: In 2013 the FCC announced it would cap prison phone rates but that just affects calls from state to state. Most prisoners’ family members like LaTonya and Kenny make their calls within a state. Without more action their rates will stay high.

KENNY DAVIS: If I could talk to my dad right now I’d say I miss him.

REPORTER: Fight the prison profiteers. Tell the FCC to cap all prison phone rates at http://prisonprofiteers.org


DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy of CBS, Denver.


MALE ANCHOR: Well, the marijuana industry is having a big impact on Colorado’s power supply.

FEMALE ANCHOR: CBS4’s investigation has been looking into collateral impact of this booming business. Brian joins us now, experts say it’s affecting the air we breathe, Brian?

BRIAN MAASS: In some cities are doing something about this issue. It’s coming up in the marijuana industry. They are taking action to deal with the carbon emissions of the marijuana industry.

The high intensity lights work around the clock. Climate control cranks away 24/7 and these sprawling weed warehouses where medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are grown are massive energy sucks.

JOHN KOCER: Our last bill was $21,500

BRIAN MAASS: That’s right, John Kocer’s indoor marijuana operation is chewing through one quarter million dollars per year in energy costs along and it’s not even one of the largest. He’s heard of a larger Denver grow with energy bills of $100,000 each month.

JOHN KOCER: Energy consumption in this business is pretty astronomical.

BRIAN MAASS: And with marijuana being sold legally starting in January energy consumption will grow. This 2012 study reported indoor pot growing is costing 6 billion dollars a year in energy costs – 6 times that of the entire U.S. pharmaceutical industry.

These operations are using enough energy to power 2 million homes. The study reported greenhouse gas pollution from all that power is equivalent to 3 million cars.

JOHN KOCER: As this energy expands at its current pace I do believe that we would be a tax on the energy grid so something will have to change.

BRIAN MAASS: In Boulder it already has.

MALE: We can’t have a burgeoning industry, a brand new energy that is driving our carbon emissions up.

BRIAN MAASS: So Boulder requires marijuana growers to buy energy from renewable energy sources creating less pollution.

MALE: The marijuana is greener in Boulder and it has less environmental impact. We’re very proud of that.

BRIAN MAASS: Boulder pot grower Devan Lyles pays 20% more for renewable sources.

DEVAN LYLES: It makes sense to us. We’re concerned about the environment too.

BRIAN MAASS: With even more massive grow warehouses in Denver you’d think Denver would be ahead of the energy curve but that’s not the case. We obtained this list of every grow facility in Denver and mapped them out - huge clusters of monster energy hogs.

Even though the city of Denver has an entire agency devoted to building us a sustainable city they have no plans to address how all these grow operations will impact the climate.

John Kocer is addressing it on his own adding an 18,000 square foot greenhouse powered by the sun to his indoor operation in an attempt to reduce energy cost and environmental impacts.

JOHN KOCER: Excel Energy loves this business but it absolutely does consume a lot of electricity to grow inside.

BRIAN MAASS: Excel Energy told us they are aware of this issue and are keeping an eye on it. John Kocer figures when selling recreational marijuana becomes legal in January his business will increase about 400%. As it does so will the demand for energy right along with that business.


MIKE: My name is Mike and I’m a sales representative with Boulder LAMP. We’re doing a next generation grow light. Our system is utilizing the new 315 watt agro-grow bulb. We have a low frequency ballast. It’s a plug-n-play system so you can pull it right out of the box, plug it right into the wall and start growing.

The unit is going to go 70% less energy use, 50 to 60% less residual heat and if you are licensed company Excel Energy and other providers are giving out 50 to 60% rebates per unit.

DEAN BECKER: We do have those who have huge amount of concerns about the huge amounts of energy that are being drained from our system. I was at a grow facility yesterday with tens of thousands of plants under thousands of lights. I’d hate to pay that electric bill. Your thoughts?

MIKE: It is a pressing concern. We have a great product and we’re in a great industry but we need to stay focused on the overall and long-term impacts. Energy reduction is right up there as a top priority – probably in the top 3 priorities for the industry to overcome.

What’s great about our product is we’re going to offset carbon emissions. We’re going to lower the overall pull on the energy grid. The bulb is a fantastic bulb. It’s a full spectrum bulb. This one bulb will allow you to veg and flower the product.

Even setup wise in the industry and layout can get that much easier because you don’t have to separate rooms, you don’t have to worry about the logistics of getting the plants to other rooms - any damage that may be caused to your plants during that transition.

The other upside is the low frequency ballast will plug into a solar panel as well.

DEAN BECKER: People in Colorado are looking at this in light of the new circumstance. This is not going away. These plants will be growing not just in Colorado but I think soon across America and we best get a handle on it now. Any closing thoughts?

MIKE: In closing we’d love to hear from the community. You can contact me @ michaelp@boulderlamp.com. We can address all the issues. We have all the proper test equipment to get all the proper readings and we’d love to be able to help you out.


DEAN BECKER: The following comes to us courtesy of KPLU, Seattle, Washington.


MONICA SPAIN: For a guy who’s expecting 500 guests on Friday afternoon pot activist Ben Livingston seems pretty relaxed as he surveys the dead space between the monorail station and the EMP. He calls it a blank canvas that will transform into a pot party in a tent.

BEN LIVINGSTON: We are at Seattle Center standing in the old Fun Forrest which is now essentially an empty lot. The Fun Forrest has been clear cut.

MONICA SPAIN: Livingston says that it wasn’t a shoo-in to get the city excited about a free, private anniversary celebration to which the public, 21 and older, is invited. He said it was his first choice because of what happened when I-502 passed last year.

BEN LIVINGSTON: Potheads gathered at the Space Needle and celebrated by smoking weed openly and I thought I’m not sure that’s the best image to say, “OK, we’ve now legalized pot let’s go have a giant public smoke out and that’s the way to celebrate.”

So the way I perceived as a harm I offered to reduce that harm by putting privacy fencing around it.

MONICA SPAIN: You might be wondering will a chain link fence prevent a contact high for passers-by. Livingston thinks so. The privacy fence is comprised of double layers – the kind that actually calls for a moat between two fences and a total of 20 feet will buffer the space between the smokers and the public.

The speaker lineup includes Seattle city council members, columnist Dan Savage and possibly the Seattle police department.

For his part Livingston’s only worry seems to be if a crowd of tokers forms outside the tent. He does have a plan, though, and it might keep Seattle officials happy.

BEN LIVINGSTON: I’m going to create some materials that encourage people to go check out other parts of the Seattle Center. There’s ice skating, there’s food, there’s all kinds of things to do and see here so I’m going to try to flow through and use it as a launch pad for their entertaining evening.

MONICA SPAIN: Livingston says that could make for a mellow evening of mingling. Oh, one other reminder...since there are no retail cannabis sales until spring it’s BYOB – that’s bring your own bud.

Monica Spain, KPLU News.


DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy of the TV program “The Doctors”. It features the voice of Patty Figi, the mother of Charlotte for whom the marijuana concentrate Charlotte’s Web is names.


PATTY FIGI: I remember her first seizure like it was today. My husband was getting her dressed and he ran her upstairs yelling, “Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong.”

She was not breathing. She was very, very blue. Her eyes were convulsing and we called 911. They took her right into the hospital.

Then it happened again a week later and again another week. Her whole body was having convulsion. They kept getting longer – an hour long seizure, her longest was 4 hours long.

The doctors didn’t know what she had so we were constantly in the hospital. We had tried many, many different medicines [lists many medications] most of them, if not all of them are used off-label – not for children. Some of them are actually purchased from another country.

I was so hopeful at each drug that we tried that it would work. We failed them fast and miserably. After two and one-half years we found out that it was Jervas Syndrome.

Jervas Syndrome is just devastating. Many of them don’t live to adulthood. She was in a wheelchair, couldn’t eat, couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk – it was a horrible existence. I can’t believe that I’m admitting this but I was asking for her to just let go and die.

At that point my husband was saying, “I’ve heard that there is this thing that can work. I know one other parent with a Jervas Syndrome child that tried this and claimed success.”

Our next option was going to use this drug so I’m calling the state and saying, “Will you allow me to put my child on the medical marijuana registry to try this for her?”

I first gave Charlotte the oil under her tongue and that was about $1,000 of medicine that I had bought – bags of weed. I gave her the first low, low dose and she didn’t have a seizure for an hour and then four hours and then 12 hours and then she went a whole day without a single teeny, tiny seizure, a single large seizure – nothing.

I thought, “It can’t be this. There’s no way.”

And then the second day and the third and then 7 days she went without a single seizure and I was very excited. For so long every day was a critical emergency. We just gave everyone a little perspective that she’s going to be OK. She’s going to make it through this. I think we found something here.

A friend of a friend of mine sends another grower to my house and that grower was Joel Stanley. Joel Stanley had bred a plant to do exactly what I was looking for – to be high in cannabadiol and all the other compounds but low in THC.

I said, “We need more of that plant.”

JOEL STANLEY: Basically these are about 3 weeks from harvest.

PATTY FIGI: Then he started breeding a growing number of these plants for Charlotte’s supply that’s when they renamed the plant Charlotte’s Web.

JOEL STANLEY: This is the medicine that we’re using to see the seizure reductions that we’ve been seeing in a patient population of about 80 right now.

PATTY FIGI: She’s almost 2 years on treatment now. She’s medicine free. She went off pharmaceuticals a month after she began the Charlotte’s Web. She has her life back.


DEAN BECKER: Just the way I like it – full to the top. As always, I remind you there is no justification for this drug war. It is a scam, flim-flam. Please do your part to end this madness.

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org