Addiction, Neuroscience, & Law
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
KAILAB DAVID HENDRICKSON, Defendant
.No. CR 13-4110-MWB.
United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division.
June 10, 2014.
SENTENCING OPINION AND STATEMENT OF REASONING UNDER 18 U.S.C. § 3553(c)
MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.
When science began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society's responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punitive rather than preventative and therapeutic actions. Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to drug abuse have changed dramatically.
As a federal judge with two decades of experience sentencing drug-addicted criminal defendants, the quote above, from the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, evokes both optimism and dismay. On one hand, it reflects society's progress in understanding addiction as a public-health problem. On the other hand, it is a sobering reminder that advances in science continue to outpace advances in law. While science may have changed our views on drug abuse, the law still responds to drug abusers with punitive force, rather than preventative or therapeutic treatment. It is therefore unsurprising that, since 1980, the number of federal prisoners serving drug-related sentences has skyrocketed. In short, the quote above speaks to how far we've come, and how far we've yet to go.
Just as science and the law treat addiction differently, so too do federal judges. In particular, judges disagree about whether a defendant's addiction mitigates his or her culpability, and whether a defendant's addiction may support a downward variance under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). I recently attended a seminar for federal district court judges where I was reminded that some judges believe that addiction cannot be mitigating because it is so common among defendants, especially those being sentenced for drug crimes.
In defending this view, one judge commented: "Addiction in drug cases is not outside the heartland." The "heartland" refers to the "set of typical cases embodying the conduct that [a particular sentencing] guideline describes." U.S.S.G. Ch. 1, Pt. A, intro. comment. 4(b). I respectfully disagree with the view that addiction can be mitigating only if it is outside the heartland or extraordinary. I write to explain my view that drug addiction is generally mitigating, especially in cases, like this one, where the defendant is both young and has been addicted to drugs throughout adolescence and most of his early adulthood.