A Black Man’s Unfair Sentence Is Reversed

Published September 23, 2008

Posted Sept. 23, 2008 – An 18-year-old Black man who had been sentenced this summer to 10 years in prison on a drug charge had his term slashed to 10 years’ probation after his lawyers complained that his White co-defendants had been sentenced to probation only.

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When police busted into a northeast Dallas apartment in June 2006, they found Jonathan Danyell Brown next to a mountain of cocaine, a rifle and a handgun, reports The Dallas Morning News.  Also arrested were Tomie Jean Taylor and her husband, Dennis Earl Hughes, who authorities said leased the apartment, paid the bills and allowed Brown to use as his drug headquarters.

Brown, who had dropped out of school to sell drugs, paid the 30-something couple with crack. The trio was facing the same drug-trafficking charge and had similar criminal histories. Prosecutors, however slapped Brown with the additional weapons charge. Brown denied that the guns were his, saying they belonged to another young man who was convicted and sentenced separately; that person’s record included three convictions for unlawfully carrying weapons.

During sentencing, Judge Pat McDowell told Dennis Hughes, “You're a very articulate guy today. You don't look like a guy that's going to be out there doing dope. If you're doing anything like that, you're going to violate probation."

Hughes, who had earlier pleaded guilty to trafficking, told McDowell, “I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I had some suspicions." The judge sentenced Hughes to eight years’ probation and then offered some friendly advice: "Guns are going to be a problem in your life as long as you're on probation. You can't have them. Good luck to you."

During the hearing, Brown mentioned race. “It’s hard for a Black man to get a job,” he said during questioning from the prosecutor. “Really,” the prosecutor, Danielle Uher, shot back. “Because McDonald's hires, Blockbuster, Wendy's, Wal-Mart. You telling me they don't hire you because you're a Black male?"

Now it was time for McDowell to sentence Brown.

"Mr. Brown, it's a tough case for me, frankly. ... A lot of dope here. You have guns. Whether they were yours or not, they were in the apartment," the judge said in delivering his seemingly harsh 10-year sentence. "Choosing not to work. Said you couldn't work because you're African-American. ... Just can't buy that."

Brown’s attorneys quickly filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that it violated the Constitution to sentence them unequally based on race.   On Friday, a new judge sentenced Brown to probation.

"I think Mr. Brown was fortunate that [District Attorney] Craig Watkins and Kevin Brooks looked at this long enough and didn't rubber-stamp it … and undid what was obviously unfair,” Brown’s attorney, Omar Nawaz told the Morning News.

Should the sentence have been reduced?  Click “Discuss Now,” on the upper right, to post your comment.

Written by BET-Staff

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