Jeff Mizanskey has been in a Missouri prison for more than two decades for violating the state’s “prior and persistent drug offender” statute, which resembles the “three strike” laws passed in California and Georgia, with one notable exception: it doesn’t require that one of the offenses be of a violent nature.
Mizanskey was convicted in 1984 for selling marijuana to an undercover officer, and again in 1991 for possession of more than 35 grams of marijuana without intent to sell. Neither case resulted in him serving time in prison, in part because there were no “aggravating circumstances,” such as the presence of minors or illegal firearms.
In the wake of new laws legalizing possession in Washington and Colorado, his lawyer is appealing to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to commute his sentence for a 1993 charge of possession with intent to distribute.
On December 18, 1993, Mizanskey accompanied a friend, Atilano Quintana, to a motel for what he claims was a furniture-moving job. When they arrived, Quintana entered the room and tried to purchase marijuana from two friends who, unbeknownst to him, had been arrested in a sting operation the previous day.
Quintana and Mizanskey were arrested for possession with intent, despite the fact that surveillance video shows Quintana making the buy and Mizanskey’s repeated professions of ignorance of Quintana’s intent.
Mizanskey was found guilty and sentenced under Missouri’s strict “prior and persistent drug offender” statute, and all of his appeals have been denied. But a lawyer who moonlights as a civil rights advocate has now taken up his case, which he claims involves “cruel and unusual punishment.” In a letter to Governor Nixon, Tony Nenninger writes:
I am not aware of any other person in Missouri who is serving a life sentence for non-violent cannabis-only offenses. It is no secret that all recent major polls indicate over 50% of Americans, including Missourians, favor the complete legalization of adult use of marijuana. We are not asking you to commit to this new majority preference for cannabis legalization, but rather as Governor of Missouri to represent the current population’s modern sociopolitical trends to liberalize marijuana laws in considering the commutation of Jeff’s sentence.
When Jeff was sentenced on June 19, 1996 the population and the judiciary were guided by hysterical misinformation about cannabis that has since been clarified by more extensive science. Modern judicial sentencing practices reflect this science and the population’s recognition that cannabis is not the scourge of society that it was once thought to be. It is reasonable for you to commute Jeff’s sentence consistent with modern sentencing practices.
Nenninger hopes that public awareness of Mezanskey’s plight will help convince the governor that “executive clemency” is the just outcome of this situation.
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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