On Tuesday, United States Attorney Carol Casto announced sentencing for a Charleston, WV convicted felon who was caught with a gun while on federal supervised release. His prison term is noteworthy, but it’s the details of his arrest that tells the real story of guns in America:
Timothy Lee Leftenant, 37, previously pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony.
On Dec. 28, 2015, the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department responded to a call at America’s Best Value Inn in St. Albans and encountered Leftenant after smelling marijuana outside his room.
Leftenant ran from the officers when they attempted to pat him down. As he was running, Leftenant threw his hat, which contained heroin and a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun. Leftenant was prohibited from possessing any firearm under federal law because of previous felony convictions for possession with intent to distribute crack and for carrying a firearm in relation to a drug crime.
Additionally, Leftenant was on federal supervised release for the two prior felony convictions at the time he possessed the handgun.
Wow. A convicted felon doing illegal drugs while carrying a firearm illegally while on federal supervised release. How many things do you see wrong with that sentence?
Casto sentenced Leftenant to two and a half years in federal prison for illegally possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony. She also sentenced him to a whopping six months in prison for violating his federal supervised release, sentences to be served consecutively.
A convicted felon in possession of illegal drugs and a firearm while on supervised release gets three years in prison. Three years. I could do three years standing on my head, you think this guy cares sitting behind bars for 36 months?
THIS is the real story of guns in America. People who shouldn’t have them get them and the people who have it in their power to punish them, fail to impose an appropriate sentence to correct their behavior.
Leftenant’s crimes involve drugs, so for the sake of argument, let’s say he has a drug problem. Statistics show the best way to reduce crime is to punish criminals appropriately and take a proactive approach with at-risk individuals. Just look at Texas: Beginning in 2005, under the leadership of then Republican Gov. Rick Perry, the state enacted a number of reforms that were credited with a 12-percent reduction in its incarceration rate since 2009.
Taking took a holistic approach to criminal justice by specialized drug courts, which allow defendants to get treatment as an alternative to prison. Its probation and parole system were revamped to swiftly punish violations without automatically sending the offender to prison—to get a violator’s attention without locking him up.
In 2007, faced with the prospect of spending $2 billion to build and run new prisons to meet demand, a bipartisan group of state legislators instead invested $241 million to expand in-prison and community-based treatment and diversion programs.
“Since that time, we’ve reduced the crime rate to the lowest level since the 1960s,” said Jerry Madden, a former Republican member of the Texas legislature who helped design the reforms.
Texas’ crime rate has fallen dramatically and recidivism is down; from 28% before the reforms to 22.6%, according to the most recent data. Compare that to the national recidivism rate of 49.3% and that’s a whopping 26.7% difference.
If Leftenant was caught with heroin while on supervised release, chances are, he didn’t get clean in jail the first time. Now, he’s going back in for 36 months and one can only assume he’ll be eligible for parole and receive time off for good behavior, but what good does that do?
Unless we push to change the criminal justice system, people like Leftenant will always be caught in the undertow of society where gun violence and officer-involved shootings aren’t a matter of if, they’re a matter of when. Then it’s Alton Sterling all over again.
And none of us want that.