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U.S. v. HANDY

November 19, 1990

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NADINE JENNIFER HANDY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glasser, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Prior to proceeding with the pronouncement of sentence upon this defendant, the government was advised of the court's intention to depart downwardly from the guidelines and announced its readiness to proceed with sentence.

I began with summarizing the facts upon which my sentence determination will be based.

Ms. Handy pleaded guilty to a single count indictment charging her with conspiring with William Johnson to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine. The events leading up to her arrest describe a reverse buy — that is to say — the defendants were not selling cocaine to an undercover officer or to a confidential informant, but were negotiating to buy cocaine for a stated price. The money with which to consummate the purchase was in a handbag on the floor near Ms. Handy and totaled $75,000. Also in her handbag were a diluent used to "cut" cocaine and glassine envelopes.

Johnson was, for the preceding five years, Handy's boyfriend. On the day prior to her arrest, he requested her to accompany him to New York City to buy narcotics. She agreed to accompany him and to carry the purchase money. She denied ever having done so before. She admitted to knowing for at least two years of Johnson's involvement in illegal activity based upon the inconsistency between his lifestyle and his earnings as a meat cutter and she suspected that the illegal activity was drug related.

The facts which identify this defendant as Nadine Handy, a person, rather than an objective manifestation of discrete criteria to which are assigned numbers which, when added together yield a sentencing result, are as follows:

She was born in Baltimore, Maryland, thirty-six years ago. She was one of ten children whose father died when she was three and whose mother died at the age of forty when the defendant was fifteen years old. She is the mother of three out-of-wedlock children. She gave birth to her first child when she was seventeen and still in high school. He is now nineteen years old and is a strong candidate for a basketball scholarship to college with aspirations of playing professional basketball thereafter.

She gave birth to her second child, a daughter, two years later and left high school. This child is now sixteen, is enrolled in the "gifted and talented" class in her local high school and is the likely recipient of a $1,000 annual college scholarship. She gave birth to her second daughter who is now eight years old and in the third grade. All the children live with her. She has no prior criminal record.

Ms. Handy has been gainfully employed for the past thirteen years. For the past eight years she has been employed by the same firm, Farm Fresh Food, Inc. in Baltimore to which she returned to resume her work when released on bail. She has borne the sole responsibility for rearing her three children and supporting them without public assistance. She also undertook to care for the two children of her boyfriend, Johnson, when they came to Baltimore from California. Letters written on behalf of Ms. Handy describe her selflessness in that regard and the positive influence she has had on their lives.

The picture of Ms. Handy portrayed by the salient facts I summarized and by the many letters on her behalf, is of a young woman born into and reared in poverty in an urban environment which is a socio-economic minefield through which she threaded her way and emerged unscathed, relatively speaking. That is to say, she abjured the suffocating effects of the world of welfare for the independence and dignity-reinforcing world of work and has been steadily and gainfully employed for thirteen years. She has single-handedly and successfully guided three children through the socio-economic minefield of a not atypically treacherous urban environment. Letters addressed to the court attest to the high regard in which she is held at work and in her community. What then brings her before the court? The explanation which is all but inescapable is that this single parent fell in love with the co-defendant, William Johnson and despite her many other strengths did not have the strength to say "no" to him. The story is as old as the story of civilization — he offered her an apple and she did eat. That the government did not view her as a sophisticated, knowledgeable drug dealer is indicated by its stipulation at the time of her plea not to oppose a four point guideline reduction for her minimal role in the offense. There is no indication that the defendant was drawn to trafficking in drugs by the lure of the huge sums of money incident to such traffic. Were that the case it would be reasonable to assume that she would not persist in working as a meat wrapper at an average salary of approximately $250 per week.

Is a downward modification appropriate and justified by the statutes and the guidelines promulgated pursuant thereto? I believe it is. I believe that the conclusion I reach is one a sentencing judge is permitted to reach within the framework of the guidelines. I do not depart as an expression of general dissatisfaction with the guidelines. It is rather late in the day for that and would be tilting at windmills. In addition such dissatisfaction has been expressed quite eloquently by others. See, e.g., dissenting opinion by Chief Judge Merritt in United States v. Brewer, 899 F.2d 503, 512 (6th Cir. 1990) ("In devising a fair sentencing system, there is something worse than small disparities in sentencing — mechanistic rules that impose unjust or arbitrary punishment because they preclude the sentencing judge from considering all relevant factors and nuances in the case.").

What is the framework of the statutes and guidelines within which I depart?

I begin with Policy Statement 4(b) of the U.S.S.G. at pp. 1.5, 1.6 (Nov. 1, 1990), which, in relevant parts read:

    The sentencing statute permits a court to depart
  from a guideline-specified sentence only when it
  finds an "aggravating or mitigating circumstance
  of a kind, or to a degree, not adequately taken
  into consideration by the Sentencing Commission in
  formulating the guidelines that should result in a
  sentence different from that described." 18 U.S.C. ยง 3553(b).
  The Commission intends the sentencing
  courts to treat each guideline as carving out a
  "heartland," a set of typical cases embodying the
  conduct that each guideline describes. . . . the
  Commission does not intend to limit ...

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