Judge Sentences Cocaine Smuggling Student to Probation Instead of Prison

By Seth Ferranti 05/31/16

The judge found that the "collateral consequences" the student would suffer with a felony conviction was adequate punishment for her crime.

Judge Sentences Cocaine Smuggling Student to Probation Instead of Prison

Accused cocaine smuggler Chevelle Nesbeth was convicted by a jury in court last week, but she won't be heading to prison.

Instead of giving the 20-year-old college student up to 41 months behind bars, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block sentenced Nesbeth to one year of probation, six months of home confinement, and 100 hours of community service for smuggling 1.3 pounds of cocaine into JFK International Airport last year.

Judge Block found that the "the collateral consequences Ms. Nesbeth will suffer—principally her likely inability to pursue a teaching career and her goal of becoming a principal—has compelled me to conclude that she has been sufficiently punished.”

In his 42-page opinion, the judge continued: "Today, the collateral consequences of a felony conviction form a new civil death. Convicted felons now suffer restrictions in broad ranging aspects of life that touch upon economic, political, and social rights because there are now more public benefits to lose, and more professions in which a license or permit or ability to obtain a government contract is a necessity."

The judgment highlights the stigma, hardships and restrictions that ex-offenders and returning citizens face as they try to re-acclimate to society after a stint in prison. With a criminal conviction hanging over one's head, life can be difficult. As a convicted felon, it will be harder for Nesbeth to access public housing, student loans, and in some states, the right to vote.

“I believe that the judge did a great justice in ruling with common sense and a practical approach,” Rodney White, a former prisoner of the drug war, tells The Fix. “A harsh prison sentence is no deterrent to stopping people from selling or using drugs.”

Rodney has since got out of prison, got an education and now works as an adult career coach at a community college. As an educator who wanted to work with youth, he had to seek jobs on a college level because his first time, non-violent drug felony offense doesn’t allow him to work in a K-12 grade school. “I applaud Judge Block for making a ruling that looks beyond 41 months and probably beyond the next 41 years of Ms. Nesbeth's life. I believe that she will have lots of academic and life lessons she can teach in the classroom,” he says.

A sensible drug policy where the punishment fits the crime is a far cry from the last 30 years of sentencing policies. A judge should be able to look at each defendant individually and make a decision based on the totality of the evidence and circumstances—not by a chart, mandatory minimums or sentencing guidelines that don’t take into consideration the person's situation in life.

“These kinds of sentences are rare and probably unprecedented,” criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross from the University of Baltimore tells The Fix. “Perhaps this will signal a change among prosecutors in the United States. I wonder how the prosecutor reacted? I suspect that they’re not happy. Perhaps the attention that this sentence garners will show the public that a criminal sanction does have negative consequences beyond incarceration.”

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.