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Ouch

Nonviolent, low-level drug dealer gets 151 months in federal prison

On the day after his 31st birthday in April 2008, Barry Green was acquitted of firearms charges by a Baltimore City jury and left the courthouse a free man. A few weeks later, in early May 2008, he was stung in an undercover police operation with three vials of cocaine and $214 in cash. He would end up paying dearly.

Green had been caught slinging drugs before, always small amounts dealt hand-to-hand. In all, though he’d twice been convicted of narcotics felonies, court records show Green had served a total of six days in jail for these nonviolent crimes, received a total of five years in suspended sentences, and—with the exception of the current charge—completed his terms of probation without being convicted of new crimes.

The case of the three vials and $214 was going to be different though. This time, the charges went to federal court, where he pleaded guilty in February 2010 to one count of dealing coke. At Green’s sentencing today, those two prior felony convictions came back to bite him, hard. As a result of his priors, he was draped with the career-offender mantle, exposing him to federal sentencing guidelines of between 151 and 188 months in prison.

Green’s attorney Michael Montemarano wrote in a sentencing memorandum to the court that the career-offender label was unjust, and urged that an appropriate sentence would be one to two years of house arrest, allowing Green to keep his job and stay with his family. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerald Collins recommended a 170-month prison sentence. U.S. District judge William Quarles decided on the low end of the guideline range: 151 months in prison.

The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a press release about the sentence. It was titled: “Baltimore Drug Trafficker Exiled to Over 12 Years in Prison.” Three vials of coke, it turns out, makes a drug trafficker.

Montemarano, reached by phone, would not comment on Green’s sentence. But in his memorandum, he wrote that when Green pleaded guilty, “this Court made its own observation on the gravity of this particular narcotics offense, inquiring of counsel as follows: 'Why is this case here?’ The defense could not agree more.”

Federal court is usually reserved for violent traffickers at the top of sprawling conspiracies involving large amounts of narcotics. But Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, in an e-mail to City Paper about Green’s case and his office’s policy on prosecuting nonviolent offenders, explained why his prosecutors sometimes go after more run-of-the-mill drug suspects, and how Green fit the bill. 

“We prosecute individual drug dealers at the request of local police and prosecutors if the defendant qualifies for a lengthy federal sentence and has a significant record of arrests and convictions and/or is suspected of violent crimes or gun violations,” Rosenstein explained. He also noted that “a pattern of arrests, especially while on bail, probation or parole, suggests that a defendant is a repeat offender who is not deterred by state prosecution,” and added that “crimes for which the defendant was not charged, or was charged but not convicted, are considered in our evaluation.”

Green met these criteria, Rosenstein continued, because he “evidently has been dealing drugs at least since he was a teenager, and continued dealing while on probation and after five convictions.”

Despite that, Montemarano also sought mercy for Green by noting the “considerable statistical evidence amassed in the last two decades regarding the effect of lengthy incarceration for drug offenses,” a trend that has “lead [sic] to a prison system bursting at the seams at every level, and the concomitant lack of meaningful rehabilitation available in such overstressed prison facilities.”

Green, who turned 34 last week and will be 46 by the time he’s finished serving his federal sentence, will soon learn about this problem firsthand.

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