Addict questions drug sentencing

November 21, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Deborah K. Hackley wants what many other twice-convicted drug dealers in Maryland get -- a chance to get out of jail early by seeking counseling.

But attorneys involved in her case say Hackley is caught in the middle of a double standard created by a state law that frees convicts who sold certain kinds of drugs from mandatory sentences, yet denies parole to others who sold other types of narcotics.

Hackley pleaded guilty in 1988 and again in 1990 to selling a total of about eight grams of PCP to an undercover police officer for $75.

She received a suspended prison sentence and probation for her first offense, but has been serving a mandatory 10-year prison term without the possibility of parole at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup since September 1990 on her second conviction.

Had the 28-year-old single mother from North Laurel been convicted of selling a different drug -- whether it be crack cocaine or heroin -- she would have been eligible for an early release from prison by entering a drug rehabilitation program.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Baltimore, said that the Hackley case is an example of how the war against drug abuse is directed at the wrong people.

"This is crazy," Mr. Comstock-Gay said. "This does nothing to reduce our drug or crime problem. It just shows that mandatory sentences are not a good idea."

Last week, Hackley and her attorney went to Howard County Circuit Court to ask a judge for either a new sentence or permission to take her case to the state appellate courts.

Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney did not issue a ruling after Thursday's hearing. He did not say when he would make a decision.

While Judge Sweeney did not state any opinions in the Hackley case, he outlined the issue.

"You could distribute a boatload of cocaine and get out of it. With PCP, you can do trace amounts of it and not have an out," Judge Sweeney said. "I'm not saying that's right or wrong."

Howard Assistant State's Attorney Robert Voss, who prosecutes most drug cases in the county, cautioned that Judge Sweeney (( may not have the power to second-guess the General Assembly.

The law "may not make sense, but it is there," Mr. Voss said. "I don't think the court can misconstrue what the legislature has written."

The General Assembly established laws creating mandatory sentences for drug distribution convictions in 1988. State appeals cases since the law was established, and since Hackley was sentenced, have given courts the discretion to give lesser sentences to convicts who seek drug counseling.

The law, however, does not provide the same option for convicts who sold PCP and LSD. PCP, also known as angel dust or phencyclidine, and LSD, called acid or lysergic acid diethylamide, are psychedelic drugs that induce vivid mental imagery.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a member of the House Subcommittee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, said the mandatory sentences were established to penalize career drug dealers and deter others from the crime.

PCP and LSD were left out of the rehabilitation option because they are considered more dangerous than other narcotics, said Mr. Montague, a Baltimore Democrat.

Recent examples of bizarre behavior attributed to PCP include a 1992 case in which a Laurel man murdered his girlfriend and her son while on PCP. In April, a Baltimore man on PCP was shot six times after he attacked a Howard police officer.

Mr. Montague said Hackley was already given a break by receiving a lenient sentence after her first conviction and should have known she could land in deeper trouble if convicted a second time.

"She didn't get the message," he said.

But C. Michael Walls, a Laurel attorney representing Hackley, said state laws should treat PCP and LSD like other narcotics. He said other drugs, such as crack and China white, are just as harmful.

"I just can't fathom a good reason why the law is the way it is," Mr. Walls said. "To me, that makes no sense."

Mr. Walls argues that the law violates Hackley's constitutional rights by putting her kind of cases in a separate category that is treated more severely than other drug cases.

He noted that a drug dealer who has one PCP distribution conviction, then gets a cocaine distribution conviction would be eligible for the rehabilitation option.

Meanwhile, Hackley continues to serve her sentence at Patuxent without any treatment for a drug addiction she has had since she was 15 years old, Mr. Walls said.

Hackley has been drug-free since her incarceration, but still needs help to overcome her addiction, Mr. Walls said. He noted that she has been accepted into the Second Genesis Inc.'s rehabilitation program in Bethesda, but can't start the program unless her sentence is changed.

Since her conviction, Hackley has had two requests for a new sentence denied in the Howard courts. Because she pleaded guilty to the distribution charges, she has not been able to take her case to the state appellate courts.

But even if Judge Sweeney rejects Hackley's latest request, Mr. Walls and Mr. Voss say his ruling could be taken to state appellate courts.

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