Testimony to the United States Sentencing Commission

Testimony to the United States Sentencing Commission

By William Boman

March 23, 2000

Good morning members of the United States Sentencing Commission. My name is Bill Boman and I thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about an issue that is close to my heart. Although I am no expert in sentencing matters, I am an expert in loving my family members, even the ones who make mistakes. I am here because of my niece, Terri Christine Taylor who, at age 19, became entangled in a methamphetamine conspiracy that eventually cost her 19 years and seven months of her young life. Chrissy has already served 10 years in federal prison for her minor role in this offense. I am here today because I believe her sentence is far too long for so little involvement, and that the sentencing guidelines you are charged to administer should be reformed so that low-level offenders like Chrissy are not sentenced to "kingpin" time.

I would like to tell you a little about myself. I am the owner of Gulf Coast Parcel Company in Houston, Texas, an independently operated trucking and delivery business. I have owned the company since 1986 and have worked hard to achieve the American dream by building my business and supporting my family. I have been married to my wife Norma since 1954 and we have 3 children. My niece Chrissy and I have been extremely close since she was 15, when she and her mother moved to Texas. Chrissy was going through typical, turbulent teenage years and I tried hard to steer Chrissy in the right direction by giving her a job at my company, a place to stay and unconditional love and support. Although Chrissy did things I disapproved of, including dating men more than twice her age, I always tried to show her that she had other options, and a brighter future, than she believed she had.

At age 16, Chrissy began experimenting with drugs and quickly became addicted. By age 18, Chrissy was arrested three times for drug use and seemed to be spiraling out of control. I tried to get her into drug treatment and told her I would pay her tuition to beauty school, continue to give her a place to stay and let her keep her job if she would participate in the program. Around this time she became involved with a man who was 37 years old. Of course, the family disapproved of Chrissy's choice of boyfriends. I thought this was yet another stupid teenage decision that would also pass. In retrospect, I see just how wrong I was.

Chrissy's new boyfriend was a heavy user of methamphetamine. Chrissy's addiction escalated, and she became more and more distant. There were times when we didn't know Chrissy's whereabouts. It was very hard for me to watch Chrissy's life slowly dissolve before my eyes. I knew the boyfriend was no good for her. But Chrissy was 18, and in the eyes of the law she was an adult, so I resigned myself to the fact that, despite our best intentions, Chrissy was going to pursue a life of her choosing. This is where the nightmare really began.

Chrissy's boyfriend talked her into purchasing chemicals that could be used to make methamphetamine. He reasoned that the chemicals were completely legal, so they could not get in trouble. Chrissy believed him and made the trip to Mobile, where she entered the store and picked up the order of chemicals. They went back home to Houston and Chrissy resumed her life, once again working for my company. Several months later, Chrissy returned to Mobile and picked up another order of chemicals. When she got to the store, she found that she didn't have enough money to pay for the order. The salesperson said he would subtract chemicals from the order so she could cover it. In fact, the salesperson was actually an undercover DEA agent operating a reverse sting from the chemical company's store. A few hours later, Chrissy and her boyfriend were pulled over on their way back to Houston and the chemicals were found. No other evidence or equipment pointing to drug manufacturing was discovered. However, Chrissy and her boyfriend were charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.

If I knew then what I know now about the justice system, I would have forced Chrissy to plead guilty to the charges. How naïve we were to think that the facts of her case would be considered! Chrissy believed she was innocent because the chemicals alone were legal, and decided to take her case to trial. The prosecutor asked Chrissy to provide substantial assistance to the government for a sentence reduction, but she had no information to trade. I well remember my confidence in the greatest justice system in the world, and my family felt secure in the fact that the punishment would fit the crime. Indeed, we were thankful in some ways that Chrissy had received a "wake up call" she sorely needed.

I will never forget the day of her sentencing. I sat in court, surrounded by my family, while Chrissy stood before the judge and was sentenced to 19 years, seven months in federal prison. The judge explained there was no parole and that she would serve the full length of her sentence. It seemed like Chrissy shrunk before my eyes as I watched her being led away in leg irons and handcuffs. I thought I was dreaming, and then I thought I was having a heart attack. And then I got mad, very mad, and began doing everything I could to try and see that justice was served for Chrissy.

Please do not misunderstand me: I do believe that Chrissy should have been punished. She needed help to free herself from her addiction and self-destructive behavior. But almost 20 years in prison? Our country often doesn't sentence rapists or murderers that severely! What I saw in the courtroom that day, and what I have learned about mandatory sentences and sentencing guidelines since, has made me doubt everything that I once cherished about the American justice system.

These days, sentencing reform seems like nobody's problem. Congress refuses to even look at mandatory sentences for fear of being labeled "soft on crime." Sentencing Commissions in years past have issued indictments of the conflicts caused by mandatory sentences and sentencing guidelines, and yet nothing substantial is done to address what's happening to tens of thousands of Chrissy Taylors across this country each day. Since I have been involved with FAMM, at least five major reports on the ineffectiveness of mandatory sentences have been released and have sunk like stones. One begins to wonder, in this democracy of ours, what a person has to do to see that bad policies are addressed and reformed for the good of the entire system.

I tell you all of this because a substantial part of Chrissy's sentence is guideline time, but also because you have the power and the authority to shape our nation's discussion of sentencing. You have the ability to revive discussion of the problems created by mandatory sentences and their impact on sentencing guidelines. You have the power to refuse to implement politically expedient sentencing increases for methamphetamine and all other drug offenses. You have the power to declare a moratorium on sentence increases for drug offenses under the guidelines until the conflict between mandatory sentences and guidelines can be resolved. You can take the bull by the horns and foster real debate on these issues instead of silence.

The year 2000 marks Chrissy's tenth year in prison. In just a decade, we have seen our world revolutionized by technology and improved by a booming economy. While we've been enjoying the fruits of prosperity, Chrissy has also seen the world change. She has watched the number of inmates double, triple and quadruple in her prison. She has seen inmates with more culpable roles and information to trade for sentence reductions come and go. We are a different country now and Chrissy is a different person.

I too am a different person, and I don't expect anyone to change Chrissy's situation. But I still believe that we can change our system, if we have the strength of character to try. You are new Commissioners, and as such, sentencing is your problem. I urge you to leave your mark on the administration of justice by becoming the most vocal and active Sentencing Commission in the history of the United States. Thank you for your time.