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Saturday, August 26, 2023

Timothy Tyler's "Three Strikes and You're Out" Sentence

    In 1991, 22-year-old Timothy Tyler, an avid user of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, was a so-called "Deadhead" who traveled the country attending Grateful Dead concerts. That year, while en route to a rock concert in California, DEA agents arrested Tyler on the charge of conspiracy to possess LSD with the intent to distribute.

     Tyler, from his home in Florida, had mailed an out-of-state friend five grams of the drug. As it turned out, the friend had become a DEA snitch. Tyler had been arrested twice before on LSD charges. On both of these occasions the judge had sentenced him to probation.

     In 1986, five years before Tyler's third LSD arrest, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act that contained a "three strikes and you're out" provision. Under the new federal sentencing guidelines, judges, without regard to a defendant's age, lack of violent crime record, mental state or drug addiction, were required to impose a sentence of life without parole on a defendant's third drug conviction.

     Under the 1986 Anti-Drug Act, prosecutors were supposed to use the law to bring down major drug traffickers. Instead, as could be predicted, prosecutors went after low-level drug offenders like Timothy Tyler. Federal prosecutors did this because it was easy and made them look like real crime-fighters. (The three strikes and you're out sentencing provision is no longer in effect.)

     The federal prosecutor in Florida offered Tyler a plea bargain. If he agreed to testify against his co-defendants, Tyler would go to prison for ten years. Since his father was one of the co-defendants in the case, Tyler turned down the deal. Unfortunately for him, his public defender attorney failed to inform him of the mandatory life without parole sentence for three-time losers. Tyler pleaded guilty, but refused to testify against the others. When he learned of the mandatory life sentence law he tried to withdraw his guilty plea but it was too late.

     In 1992, a federal district judge imprisoned Tyler to life without parole. His father was handed a lesser sentence and died in prison on April 2001. Tyler was serving his time at the federal prison in Waymart, Pennsylvania in the northeastern corner of the state.

     On April 23, 2014, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole announced proposed changes to the presidential clemency criteria. Pursuant to the new policy, clemency could be granted to persons who met the following conditions: The clemency applicant must be a low-level, nonviolent offender without a significant criminal history. If convicted today for the same offense, the modern sentence would be shorter than the one imposed. To be eligible for clemency under the new policy, the applicant must also have served at least ten years of his sentence, and his prison record must reflect good conduct.

     The clemency policy announcement gave Timothy Tyler some hope that he might not spend the rest of his life behind bars for mailing five grams of LSD in 1991.

     In August 2016, Tyler was one of 111 federal prisoners granted reduced sentences by President Obama. He was released from prison later that year.

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