Federal Officials Unleash New Tough Law
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Federal prosecutors unleashed a tough new law in their war on drug-dealing street thugs, hoping to send a repeat drug offender accused of possessing 150 grams of crack to prison with no chance of getting out.
Richard Van Winrow, a 21-year-old reputed gang member, pleaded innocent Tuesday to three drug-related charges at his arraignment before U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall.
″The new law is being used to target gang members in the hopes of reducing drug sales and consumption,″ said the prosecutor, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Lench. ″There’s a hope there will be an impact on the street- gang drug problem.″
The charges against Winrow are believed to be the first filed under the anti-drug law President Reagan signed in November, Ms. Lench said. The law requires federal judges to impose life sentences with no hope of parole on defendants convicted of drug trafficking under certain circumstances.
In Winrow’s case, the circumstances are that he has at least two convictions on felony drug-related charges and was holding at least 50 grams of crack cocaine when he was arrested, the prosecutor said.
Winrow’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Kevin Brehm, said the law is too harsh. He said it is unfair that someone with three convictions for possessing cocaine, as Winrow has, faces the same sentence as someone convicted at least twice previously of drug trafficking.
Others who can be sentenced under the law include defendants with at least two felony drug convictions who are then convicted in federal court of possessing for sale at least 1 kilogram of heroin, 5 kilos of cocaine powder or 100 kilos of marijuana. A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.
″This prosecution, and future prosecutions, are designed to convince the drug dealers on the streets that we are not kidding and they are not going to slip out of it,″ said John Gordon, head of the Gang Drug-Trafficki ng Task Force in the U.S. attorney’s office here.
Winrow is charged with one count of possession with the intent to distribute cocaine, one count of carrying and using a firearm in relation to the first charge and one count of possessing a firearm as an ex-convict.
A March 7 trial date was set for the Los Angeles man, who remained in custody without bail.
Winrow was convicted three times in 1987 for possession of cocaine and was sentenced in state court to three years’ probation and 180 days in jail, said Ms. Lench, a Justice Department prosecutor assigned to a joint federal, state and local street gang task force in Los Angeles.
The task force was formed last year to combat the Los Angeles area’s gang and drug problem. Last year, more than 330 people in Los Angeles County were slain in gang-related violence, which authorities contend is often linked to the drug trade.
Winrow was arrested on Dec. 8 for investigation of possessing about 150 grams of crack, the potent, smokable, highly addictive form of cocaine, with the intent to distribute it, Ms. Lench said.
Brehm said he may challenge the constitutionality of the new federal law if Winrow is convicted. He also said he would investigate whether Winrow was being prosecuted selectively.
But Ms. Lench said Winrow was not singled out unfairly: ″He happens to be the first who meets the criteria.″