A California man was sentenced to 360 months in Cedar Rapids Iowa this week.  A jury found Shawn Jones guilty of conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of pure methamphetamine.  Many cases involving more than one person are charged as conspiracies in federal court.  A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime and at least one step in furtherance of that crime.  In this case, the government presented evidence that five pounds of pure methamphetamine was transported from Mexico to Southern California to Iowa for distribution or sales with other individuals.

Many factors come into play at sentencing in federal court.  In drug cases, such as this, the first factor taken into consideration is the quantity of drugs.  There is a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years that must be imposed by a judge in federal court for this quantity of methamphetamine.  However, the sentence can be greater than ten years depending on the amount.   A sentence can be increased by other factors such as the fact that the drugs were smuggled into the United States from Mexico. 

Obstruction of justice was another factor argued by the U.S. Attorney’s office in this case.  If a defendant testifies at trial and it is determined that they lied under oath, the court can impose additional time.  So basically, if a defendant testifies and the jury returns a guilty verdict that can be enough to cause a judge to find obstruction of justice.  If the jury doesn’t believe you, you lied.  Lying = obstruction.  Most of the time when someone goes to trial it is because they are maintaining their innocence.  Therefore, if they testify, they are going to say they had nothing to do with it, didn’t know anything, etc.  If a jury finds a defendant guilty in spite of their testimony that does not necessarily mean the defendant lied.  It just means that the jury didn’t believe him.  Juries do get it wrong a lot of the time.  However, courts don’t see it that way. 

The other key factor in determining a sentence in federal court is a defendant’s criminal history or priors.  In this case, Mr. Jones had a prior conviction for conspiracy to distribute marijuana in California in 2006.  That prior conviction adds ten years to the sentence by means of an enhancement.  Mr. Jones was also still on supervised release when he engaged in the conduct for which is was convicted in Iowa which also increases his sentence. 

The reasons supporting the sentence in this case are sealed so I am not able to tell you the court’s reasoning behind the 360 month sentence in this case but I can tell you that thirty years in federal prison for distributing 5 pounds of methamphetamine is too much!  Mr. Jones is 42 years old.  Thirty years is effectively a life sentence.   I don’t care that he has 1 prior conviction for distributing marijuana. It’s just too much.  Courts impose life sentences in murder cases.  They should not impose them in drug cases.  There is nothing in the record to indicate that any weapons were used in this case or that anyone was harmed.  Thirty years is just too much.