Sunday, September 13, 2020

Judicial tyranny in the drug war

  If you still have any doubts about the tyranny of the federal government’s beloved “war on drugs,” perhaps the case of Juan Carlos Seresi, Vahe Andonian, and Nazareth Andonian will remove them.

  Back in 1991, a federal judge named William D. Keller sentenced these three men to 500 years in jail for a non-violent drug offense—i.e., laundering drug money.

  Yes, you read that right — 500 years!

  Why, that’s just plain stupid. Any lawyer who has gone to any decent law school knows that most people die before they are 200 years old. What law school did Keller attend?

  Or maybe it’s just plain vicious. Making known his intention to play a role in “winning” the “war on drugs,” Keller, who was appointed to the bench by conservative President Ronald Reagan, declared, “I intend to deter forevermore anybody doing anything like this.”

  Wouldn’t you love to ask the honorable Judge Keller how his draconian policy of deterrence has worked out for him? I mean, exactly how many people did he deter from engaging in drug-law violations with his 500-year jail sentences for those three men? Correct me if I’m wrong, but there have been countless people engaging in the drug trade since 1991, when Keller imposed those 500-year jail sentences. Obviously, none of them were deterred by Keller’s tyrannical jail sentences.

  The fact is that Keller's policy of deterrence accomplished nothing. All it did was ruin the lives of three men and their families. Even if a few people were deterred by his 500-year jail sentences, it didn’t make any difference because there were more than enough people who were not deterred to ensure a plentiful supply of drugs for American drug consumers.

Other federal judicial tyranny

  Of course, Keller isn’t the only federal judge who has vowed to do his part to “win” the war on drugs. There have been many other federal judges over the years who have had the same mindset.

  When I was a young lawyer back in Texas back in the 1970s, there was a federal judge in San Antonio named John Wood. His moniker was “Maximum John.” Why did lawyers and others call him that? Because his policy was to mete out the maximum possible jail sentences to drug-war violators. Like Keller some 15 years later, Wood was determined to “deter” people from engaging in the drug trade. Like Keller, Wood was doing his part to “win” the war on drugs with his maximum jail sentences.

  It makes you wonder how someone who is intelligent enough to get a law degree can end up with such a ludicrous and illogical mindset. Wood’s draconian sentences accomplished nothing. And neither did the draconian sentences metered out by other federal judges in the 1970s. Wasn’t Keller aware of this phenomenon when he meted out those 500-year jail sentences to those three men in the 1990s? When Keller was in law school, didn’t they teach him about Judge Wood and other federal judges doing the same thing that Keller would be doing when he would later become a federal judge. Didn’t they teach him the futility of such judicial tyranny?

Early release from prison?

  According to an article on, recently federal prosecutors agreed with defense attorneys that Seresi, Andonian, and Andonia should now be released from prison after spending some 30 years there. The reason revolves around the original prosecutors in the case failing to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defendants that revolved around special treatment having been accorded a prosecution witness in the case.

  You would think that would be the end of the matter, right?

  Not so. It turns out that a federal judge has to approve the deal. In the case, the federal judge, whose name is Joseph V. Wilson, is a former federal prosecutor who served under Judge Keller when he was a federal prosecutor before becoming a federal judge. Wilson ruled that the exculpatory evidence wasn’t enough to affect the outcome of the original trial. He denied the defendants’ motions for release. Seresi, Andonian, and Andonia are now appealing his order.

  Some might argue that the solution to this drug-war madness is better education in American law schools. I say that the solution is to legalize drugs. In that way, it won’t matter how much federal judges want to do their part to“win” the war on drugs through the imposition of draconian jail sentences because there will no longer be drug-war prosecutions in federal court.

  About the author: Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

  This article was published by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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