In ’80 or ’81 Ron and his wife Shirley came into my law office for the free 1/2 hour consultation. It took 90 minutes. Ron, about age 43 and a pillar of his community, owned a garage in Pennsylvania where he worked on the race cars of Mario Andretti and A J Foyt, among others. A kid who worked for him had gotten him involved with cocaine, and one day he said “I know where we can buy a larger amount, instead of $100.00 at a time” … so they went to The Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, DE, where Ron bought $1,000 worth from the State Police. The kid had “flipped” on Ron … the room was wired, and more cops in the next room came rushing in. Ron was charged with possession of x amount, and conspiracy.
The cocaine charge with which he was charged was a new law, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. While Ron and Shirley were in my office, I called the lead cop on the case [many knew me from my years as a prosecutor] and he agreed with me that Ron certainly did not need to go to jail.
Ron had consulted with a couple of criminal defense attorneys in Wilmington but one of the cops suggested he call me. He hired me that day he met me. Now, Ron, with no prior record, all that he had in his favor [within two weeks of his arrest I had nearly two hundred reference letters, from the maid to the mayor, which I had told him to get] should have been allowed to plead to conspiracy. – any reasonable prosecutor would have done that.
Keeping this brief, here is what happened: I knew that Florida’s highest court had ruled that the new mandatory minimum laws were not unconstitutional, New York lower courts had ruled the same way, but not yet New York’s highest court. So I told Ron we could attack the constitutionality of the law, and we did. I filed the Motion, wrote the briefs … did all that stuff.
I called the prosecutor assigned to the case, Gene Hall. We knew each other, but not well – he was in one county, I in another. Explaining it all – including that going to prison for 5 years would destroy the life of a good man with a wife and two teen daughters, and that the cops agreed with me that prison was uncalled for, I suggested he plead to conspiracy. That is when Hall said “Oh no, Ken, this guy is the first person in the state charged under this new mandatory minimum law and we want to make an example of him”. To which I said “Are you nuts, make an example out of the next guy, with a record a mile long”. Jackass Gene said no, Ron was to plead and get 5 years or nothing at all.
The Superior Court soon ruled against my arguments about constitutionality and I filed an appeal. It came to the morning of trial, and I told Ron “you might as well plead, the cops are here with the tapes, the trial would take about 20 minutes and the chances of any reversible error are about zero, and the prosecutor won’t budge. So he plead, was sentenced to five years, and Shirley fainted right there in the courtroom. I was livid – steaming – at the injustice of it all. I had preserved the right to keep the legal appeal, but I knew that Delaware would follow Florida and New York on that issue. What else could I do?!
Driving home, mad as hell, when most attorneys would have said “oh well, that’s it”, I had an idea. I called me secretary, a gem named Lori, and asked her to come in early the next day and make a copy of everything in Ron’s file. She said sure. By that time the file was about 4 inches thick with my notes, police report, all the legal work, and all those reference letters. Thi was b 4 computers.
Ron was having a fit in prison, as you might imagine, and every day until he was released I went to see him after work, just to say I was still working on it.
The next day I called the Warden, whom I had never met – Warden Redmond, God Bless him – and said “You know I have put some guys in your prison who should never get out, but I have a serious problem: there is someone there who should not be there at all. Can you please give me about 1/2 hour this week, I don’t want to go into it on the phone.” He set me up for 9:30 Friday morning. With Ron’s permission I walked into the Warden’s office that morning with the whole file, and explained it all to Warden Redmond. I told him “you can take the whole file, but if you read just any three of the reference letters you will see the injustice here. The cops agree with me, but if you call Gene Hall he will tell you to lock him up and throw away the key. He said “Well, Mr. Abraham, I know Gene can be difficult.” We spoke for about 2o minutes. I about fell out of my chair when he said “Mr. Abraham, I know your reputation; I don’t need anything in that file. Let me see what I can do. Call me early next week.” I did not know what that meant, but I met with Ron and told him of the meeting and I left.
Tuesday I called the Warden and he said “I have moved your client to the jail in Dover, go see the Warden there.” I said thanks and immediately met with that warden. Here is the conclusion: within two weeks of his conviction, Ron was a free man. They turned him loose on some unsupervised “work release”, opened the door, and he went home. Ron and Shirley thought I was God, but I was just doing my job. They could never do that today because it is all on computer, and the prosecutor would have intervened. Well, with a prosecutor like Gene Hall, all I can say to that is “screw him”! We withdrew the appeal … I told Jackass Gene that my client could not afford it. Case closed.
Right then and there I could see the mandatory minimum laws would be a disaster. My friends – we were all “young pups” -they went on to be on the Supreme Court – did not agree, saying we need to be tough on crime. Today they agree with me, they see the dangers of mandatory minimum laws!
This was me in that case – a youngster with PERSISTENCE – in ’80 or ’81.