When the media talks about harsh sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes, we often hear about mandatory minimums as the culprit. While it’s true these sentences that take away the judge’s ability to “judge” are often the culprit, the biggest reason people get egregiously long sentences, even life, is usually ignored, and that is America’s conspiracy laws.
Andrew “Andy” Cox, like most people serving a life sentence for a nonviolent marijuana offense, got caught in such a conspiracy charge. The conspiracy statute holds everyone involved in the conspiracy responsible for the crimes of everyone else allegedly in on the conspiracy.
The last one in the group to “cooperate” by implicating others ends up paying the steepest price while their co-defendants get off with little to no prison time. And if, like Andy, you exercise your Constitutional right to a trial, be prepared to rot in prison for a very long time. The deck is stacked against you, and because the courts far prefer cases to be settled with a plea deal than with a trial, the sentences are always the maximum amount a judge can impose.
Not that testifying against others was ever an option in Andy Cox’s mind. Like most others serving life sentences for marijuana, he has more personal integrity than that. But sadly, prosecutors do not care about integrity.
Prosecutors contend that Andrew Cox was the mastermind behind a large marijuana grow on public lands in Georgia. Cox maintains his innocence and says he was not at all involved in the grow. He does, however, admit he owned the property that shared a border with public land, where others were growing marijuana. He also admits he did have an acquaintance with one of the individuals involved. But he says he had no involvement in the operation.
To the best of Andy’s knowledge, all the marijuana growing activity took place on this private property, not on public lands, although he cannot say for sure as he was not involved in the operation and he never saw the garden. However, the jury was lead to believe this was a large scale grow on public lands.
Cox says the government was after him because they believed he was a marijuana smuggler. They used a court rule called 404b to say to the jury that because of his prior involvement with marijuana, he had knowledge of how to run a marijuana grow scheme, and was thus guilty of the conspiracy charges that earned him a life sentence.
Andy says the experience is a nightmare, with the government bringing in people, many he had never seen before, and all of them trying to get out of trouble by saying that he was the one. One of his former employees, with whom he was no longer associated, got arrested for illegally ordering pills. Upon her first questioning with the DEA she said she knew nothing about Andy or his business dealings. Several months later, as this person was facing prison time, she suddenly “remembered” she had seen marijuana and counted money from it. Her pill case magically disappeared.
Andy currently has a 2255 motion filed and is hoping the courts realize the miscarriage of justice in sentencing a nonviolent marijuana offender to a life sentence. Failing that, Presidential clemency remains Andrew Cox’s best chance at experiencing freedom again.
How You Can Help
Andy makes exquisite leatherwork – wallets, purses and such, 100 percent by hand. He is such a master craftsman that he runs the prison’s leather shop and has apprentices working under him. Each piece is made the way it was hundreds of years ago, by hand, they don’t even have sewing machines.
Prisoners cannot run a business from in prison, but Andy regularly sends the things he makes to advocate Cheri Sicard (author of this article), as he supports her efforts on behalf of prisoners serving life sentences. Cheri usually puts 100 percent of the funds raised on Andy’s commissary account, although sometimes he insists funds go to support clemency and public outreach support efforts for the marijuana lifers, as Andy believes this is vital to their eventual release.
You can write to Andy here:
Andrew Cox #89487-020
PO Box 2099
Pollock, LA 71467
Andy will soon have a clemency petition filed and will need support letters. Keep up with progress at his Facebook page Free Andy Cox – www.facebook.com/Free-Andy-Cox-1616059268671966.
Cheri Sicard is the author of Mary Jane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women and The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook, among others. A dedicated cannabis activist, she specializes in helping prisoners serving Life Sentences for marijuana. Her blog is www.cannabischeri.com.