On Federal Prison Time and Federal Charges


More coming in the Wednesday edition, which goes online Tuesday afternoon, about local reaction from our federal prosecutor about the “Smart on Crime” initiatives announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Monday in San Francisco.

The initiatives amount to prosecutors being more selective about who they prosecute and whether they charge them with crimes that upon conviction have mandatory minimum sentences. It also includes more use of re-entry programs supervised by a federal court judge for those who complete their sentences.

The reentry docket has been a regular feature of Memphis Federal Court dockets since 2011.

We wrote about it as a cover story in our weekly, The Memphis News, about two years ago.

Holder was also specific that while these initiatives will be aimed at drug cases in which the defendant is accused of a non violent offense, it will not be used for those who are part of drug organizations or cartels.

That also has a Memphis ring to it. We are now in the sentencing phase in the biggest drug case ever brought in Memphis federal court – the Petties drug organization.

By Holder’s standards and his specific words, those convicted in the case would definitely not be part of this set of initiatives.

U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays, the judge assigned the case, has made it clear at all of the sentencings so far that this was a violent drug organization in which a lot of people played a part in not just simple drug transactions but the heavy toll the drug trade took on the community as well as individual lives.

He’s also emphasized repeatedly that his sentences will not be the same for all players in the organization. Some of the guilty have had mandatory life sentences, all of them involved in the murder for hire counts in the case. Those who were part of the organization but not connected to the murders have drawn sentences in the 30 year range.

It is a contrast from the early 1990s federal court trial of those involved in the Bovan drug ring. Leaders of the organization, including Eric Bovan, pleaded guilty and got eight to nine years in prison. Those who didn’t plead guilty in the case connected to what was then the largest drug organization in the city drew sentences twice as long for transporting the drugs and money.