Twenty years ago Timothy Tyler walked into a Florida courtroom to plead guilty to a drug charge and the unexpected happened –he was sentenced to a double- life sentence without the possibility of parole.
According to CNN, when Tyler was 23-years-old his life ended when he was arrested and later sentenced to a mandatory double-life term in prison without the possibility of parole for conspiracy to possess LSD with intent to distribute. Although never convicted of a violent crime, Tyler’s life sentence was handed down after he was busted mailing five grams of the hallucinogenic drug to a friend who was working as an informant for the federal government.
Because of Tyler’s prior two drug convictions where he was granted probation, and the state’s three-strike drug law, which mandates state courts to impose harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are convicted of three or more “serious criminal offenses,” which also include drug convictions, the judge on the case was forced to give Timothy Tyler a mandatory double-life sentence.
At 45 and after more than two decades in prison, Tyler will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, sharing the same sentence as rapist and kidnapper Ariel Castro because of federal mandatory minimum sentence guidelines.
During his time in prison Tyler has been preoccupied with the reason why his charge has landed him in prison for what some believe is a disparity of the federal government, and a crack in the present law.
“A life sentence, people don’t really understand it. A man raped his daughter, got probation. A man killed people with his car, got probation. They don’t understand. If they did 10 days in jail they would understand… they can’t comprehend,” Tyler said in a phone interview.
Although the primary goal of the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” legislation or The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was to target and successfully prosecute “kingpins” or major drug traffickers, thousands of low-level offenders, like Tyler, were imprisoned based on these outdated guidelines.
Presently, the Obama administration has been campaigning for prison reform for and has recently begun to take concrete steps to alleviate overcrowded federal prisons that are flooded with non-violent offenders.
“We are launching this clemency initiative in order to quickly and effectively identify appropriate candidates, candidates who have a clean prison record, do not present a threat to public safety, and were sentenced under out-of-date laws that have since been changed, and are no longer seen as appropriate,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said at a news conference Wednesday.
According to the new clemency changes there are a set of guidelines that prisoners must meet in order to receive its benefit: prisoners must be low-level, non-violent offenders without a significant criminal history and must be serving a federal sentence that would likely be shorter if they were convicted today. They must have served at least 10 years of their sentence and have demonstrated good conduct in prison, with no history of violence before or during their prison term.
Although Tyler had two prior drug convictions, he was offered, and subsequently refused a plea deal that would have given him a 10-year sentence in exchange for testimony against his co-defendant, which happened to be his father. Tyler maintains that his father had never ingested LSD, but like his son, was only assisting a friend in obtaining the drug. Tyler did not testify against his father, who was convicted on a lesser offense.
“My dad was just helping his friend acquire some because he knew I was able to get it,” Tyler told The Business Insider over the phone from Canaan Federal Prison in Pennsylvania. “He certainly did not think he could get 10 years for a simple envelope.”
Although Tyler would have only profited about $3000 from his drug deal, his life sentence has become the backdrop of everything that is wrong with the “Three Strikes” law.
[Photo Credit: Families Against Mandatory Minimums]