A Pulaski County man indicted in federal court on drug and firearms charges was sentenced Friday to spend nine years in prison for conspiring to traffic methamphetamine.
Maurice Lemon Mackey, 33, of Little Rock, was indicted along with Raynel Kenna Jackson, also of Little Rock, in February 2021 on federal counts of drug conspiracy, drug possession and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Mackey pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count on May 10 before U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr.
Under U.S. sentencing statutes, Mackey could have faced a term of imprisonment ranging from 10 years to life and a fine of $10 million. Under U.S. sentencing guidelines, which are calculated according to a pre-sentencing report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office, the recommended sentencing range for Mackey's offense was put at 120-135 months in prison, five years to life on supervised release and a fine ranging from $35,000 to $10 million.
Mackey's attorney, Joe Perry of Marianna, asked Moody to consider a sentence below the 10-year minimum outlined in both the statutes and the sentencing guidelines.
"This event as charged does not involve any violence," Perry said. "All of his criminal history points come from a conviction that occurred ... about 16 years ago. At the time he was 17 years old."
Perry said his client had done well on pre-trial release with no violations and that he had completed two drug rehabilitation courses. The attorney pointed out members of Mackey's family seated in the gallery who had come to witness the hearing, and mentioned several letters of support that had been sent to Moody attesting to Mackey's character and asking for leniency.
"He will have a strong, loving family when he is released from the Bureau of Prisons," Perry continued. "He has accepted responsibility for his actions in this case, and he plans to change his focus and start a business in the music industry."
Perry then said that Mackey's offense level was enhanced because of distinctions made in the federal sentencing guidelines between what is referred to as "methamphetamine actual," which is methamphetamine of a purity level of 80% or above, and "a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine," in which the purity level falls below 80%, a calculation that Perry claimed has lost relevance even as it treats quantities of methamphetamine actual with more severity by a factor of 10 than a mixture containing methamphetamine at less than 80% purity.
In effect, Perry said -- comparing the sentencing disparities to the 100-1 sentencing disparity imposed from 1986 until 2010 regarding crack and powder cocaine -- a drug offense involving 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine actual is treated the same as an offense involving 15 kilograms of a mixture containing methamphetamine. The amount Mackey was involved with according to the terms of his plea agreement was between 50 grams and 150 grams -- 1.7 ounces to 5.3 ounces -- of methamphetamine. Perry said that formula was established in the sentencing guidelines in 1989.
"The idea was that an individual who had a more pure substance was closer to the top of the hierarchy of distribution," he said. "The idea was that we would treat those individuals harsher than the user, if you will. But, the problem with that today ... the average purity is over 97%."
Perry said he based that figure on a 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment report conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"What that means is that these days virtually everybody involved is in a meth actual situation," he said.
Pushing back on Perry's argument, Moody pointed out that the different penalties for drug offenses are not secret.
"I guess you could argue that they knew the rules of the game when they got involved," Moody said.
"Anybody who deals with meth is going to recognize it's not acceptable," Perry said. "Marijuana, in state court, may be to some degree ... but meth is not accepted in any way, shape, form or fashion. I'll agree with that, but all I'm saying is under the sentencing guidelines the idea and the reason for treating meth actual so harshly, in reality no longer exists. I don't think it was based on any empirical studies in the first place."
"I always appreciate the data," Moody said.
"I'm not discounting anybody involved with methamphetamine, but the guidelines are pretty harsh," Perry concluded. "All we're asking today is that you come to a sentence today that is sufficient but no greater than necessary to comply with the factors this court is certainly very aware of, and that this court temper justice with mercy."
In a brief statement, Mackey apologized to his family and asked Moody to consider a sentence that would allow him to leave prison, "while my kids are still young."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Gardner objected to any variance below the 10-year minimum prescribed in both the sentencing statutes and the guidelines.
"This is not a case where we're dealing with a few grams of methamphetamine," Gardner said. "These are pound quantities ... whether it's a mixture or methamphetamine actual, it should carry a 10-year minimum."
In addition to the nine-year prison term he imposed -- a one-year downward variance -- Moody ordered a five-year term of supervised release after Mackey leaves prison.
Jackson, who pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy count the same day as Mackey, has not yet had a sentencing date scheduled, according to the federal court calendar.