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Life for Drugs

The young man in the picture doesn’t look like a hardened criminal. And he certainly doesn’t look like his life is over – but it might be. Hunter Wheeler is facing a possible sentence of life in prison for charges related to methamphetamine dealing. For all intents and purposes, if he’s convicted, his life will be over. Hunter is 23.

The particular charges are distributing methamphetamine and possession of a firearm while drug trafficking. There are five counts in all, and the charges come from an investigation carried out in Douglas County earlier this year. The sentence upon conviction in federal court could run as high as forty years behind bars for each of several counts – adding to more than a hundred years - essentially life in prison for the young man.

Wheeler, who has pleaded not guilty, was arrested in October. Police say he sold an undercover officer more than five thousand dollars in methamphetamine over multiple transactions. The sales spanned a two-week period. A handgun was discovered when officers searched his home.

The difficulty when processing this particular case isn’t that the young man should go to jail for drug dealing – if he’s guilty, he certainly should. But the nature of the charges, where police multiply offenses by not making an arrest when the first crime happens, and the additional charge for a weapon Wheeler didn’t have on him – it seems a excessive. Do we really want to lock up young people for life because of a single, non-violent crime? Is it right to rack up multiple charges just because you can?

There was no information published on previous convictions for Wheeler. And there’s no doubt that he was involved in large quantity sales, sales of a drug that ruins lives. The part that’s hard to accept is that there may be no possibility to alter the path this young man was on – no way to rehabilitate. Why bother if he’s never going to be released?

As our nation confronts where we’ve arrived when it comes to drug sentencing and mandatory minimums, cases like Wheelers should give us pause. There ought to be options on the table, some path toward a better outcome than a young man stuck in jail for the rest of his life.

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