“Smurfed-Up” Sentencing

A recent District Court ruling draws attention to the problematic designation of “career offender” in the case of Lori Ann Newhouse, “a low-level pill smurfer, ‘[a] person who busily goes from store to store acquiring pseudoephedrine pills for a meth cook, usually in exchange for finished product'”:

[Newhouse] is truly a “one day” Career Offender because her two prior drug predicate offenses arose out of a single police raid of a Motel 6 room over a decade ago, on February 26, 2002, in Altoona, Iowa, when Newhouse was just 22 years old.  … For reasons unknown, but likely random, the local prosecutor filed the two charges on separate days. Ironically, if the two charges had been filed in the same charging document — or the defense lawyer, the prosecutor, the judge or the court administer had scheduled the two sentencings for the same day — Newhouse would not be a Career Offender. Because of Newhouse’s Career Offender status, her U.S. Sentencing Guideline range was enhanced from 70-87 months to a staggering and mind-numbing 262 to 327 months.

Douglas Berman notices an appropriate parallel to the children’s cartoon:

As folks around my age may remember well from Saturday mornings long ago, one key distinguishing features of Smurf Village — beyond, of course, a disturbing gender imbalance and a communist social structure (with Papa Smurf as general secretary) — was the ability for every inhabitant to use the word “smurf” to mean whatever Smurfs wanted the word to mean. This ruling by Judge Bennett provides a useful window into just how smurfed-up the guidelines lingo can be, as one prior minor crime a decade earlier can turn a low-level, non-violent drug defendant into a “Career Offender.”