The Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that the life sentences of five convicted Baltimore drug dealers should not be reduced because of errors in their indictments.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote the 9-0 opinion, explaining that there was enough evidence against the five men to uphold the 1998 sentences, despite an omission in their federal indictments about the quantity of drugs they were dealing.
"The error did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings," Rehnquist wrote, overturning a decision last year of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
Yesterday's ruling stemmed from the case of Stanley "Boonie" Hall Jr., who worked with his brothers, parents and grandfather to build what authorities described as a million-dollar crack cocaine ring in East Baltimore.
When investigators arrested Hall -- who had his own "Batman" brand and logo for his drugs -- they seized a $47,000 Acura, $60,000 in men's jewelry and more than 380 grams of crack.
A jury convicted Hall, then 26, and eight others of conspiring to distribute a "detectable amount" of cocaine, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. But a federal judge in Baltimore handed down life sentences to Hall and four co-defendants after determining that they were eligible for stiffer penalties because they had trafficked more then 50 grams of cocaine.
Defense lawyer Timothy J. Sullivan argued to the Supreme Court last month that his clients were wrongfully sentenced.
After learning of the ruling yesterday, Sullivan said he was disappointed and called it "tragic" that the five men will spend their lives in prison.
"Our position is that you shouldn't be sentenced for something you're not indicted for," he said.
He said it was especially troubling because a federal appeals panel ruled 2-1 last year that the judge sentenced them "for a crime with which they were never charged."
The judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the sentences should be cut to 20 years.