According to the Phoenix New Times, Arizona officials are refusing to give clemency for Trent Bouhdida, a man who was convicted in 2015 for selling an ounce of cannabis — and got 16 years in prison.
“Bouhdida was the subject of aPhoenix New Times story on August 4 that investigated how a young Black man from South Phoenix ended up serving such a lengthy sentence for pot,” reported Katya Schwenk. “At a clemency hearing on Tuesday, board members weren’t moved by the details of the case and decided the sentence was fair. ‘When I first glanced at this file, I was a little bit torn, because I do think selling an ounce of marijuana is not, on its face, deserving of such a lengthy prison sentence,’ board chair Mina Méndez said.”
Bouhdida was arrested after he tried to sell cannabis to an undercover officer at a 7-11 in a sting operation. He was charged with four counts of sale for each of the sales he made — totaling just one ounce — for 11 years, and another five because he was on probation for his involvement in an armed robbery case, even though he hadn’t actually committed the robberies himself.
“Members of the board are appointed by the governor. On Tuesday, three were present: Méndez, Louis Quiñonez, and Michael Johnson. Another board member, Salvatore Freni, was absent, and a fifth board seat has been vacant for several months,” said the report. “Méndez is a former prosecutor, while Quiñonez is a former agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Johnson is a former detective with a 21-year tenure at the Phoenix Police Department. Freni spent 30 years working for the Phoenix Police Department.”
According to the report, even in cases where the board has recommended clemency, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey still has the final decision in granting it — and he almost never does.
Extreme sentences for drug dealing and possession are still being served all around the country, thanks in part to zero-tolerance laws passed throughout the 80s and 90s during national panic over elevated crime rates and drug-related gang violence. In another recent case, a court in Mississippi upheld a life sentence without the possibility of parole against Allen Russell for nonviolent pot possession.
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