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Judge Urges Drug Reform in Sentencing of Addicts

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - A federal judge refused to jail two young drug addicts and passionately urged other courts to choose treatment over incarceration.

"These two sentences raise the profoundly troubling question of how to sentence young defendants whose addiction[s] lead to violation of criminal drug laws," Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein wrote on Friday.

Although he addressed both cases in the same ruling, Weinstein wrote that their stories were vastly different.

"One of the defendants - Lior Hanuka - fell into addiction after a drug was prescribed lawfully, and with medical justification, for pain caused by injuries in an auto accident. The other - Andrew Ilayayev - used drugs for personal gratification and pleasure, with abuse turning into addiction," Weinstein wrote.

After a serious 2005 car accident, Hanuka was left with a back injury that still gives him a burning sensation when he sits too long. He got hooked on oxycodone painkillers to cope, and he multiplied his prescriptions by visiting more doctors. He eventually dropped out of the College of Staten Island to start selling pills to fund his addiction.

Five years after the accident, Hanuka got arrested for dealing, and he was released to begin his life with his fiancée, "Ms. S," in Florida. He still struggled with oxycodone, but he headed toward recovery even after "S" died in car crash late last year.

Weinstein sentenced Hanuka, now 24, to five years of probation with court-ordered psychiatric, drug and alcohol treatment.

Unlike Hanuka, Ilayayev had no apparent medical cause for his addictions. He dealt and used a long list of narcotics, and showed no signs of recovery at the time of sentencing.

Born in September 1982, he emigrated from Uzbekistan to the United States with his mother, grandmother and siblings after his parents divorced that same year. He never had contact with his biological father, and his family scraped by on public assistance.

Known in graffiti art circles by the tag name "DOTS," Ilayayev jumped between jobs as a club promoter, bike messenger, Macy's salesman and a Brooklyn barber.

He started using ecstasy at 16 and sold 5,000 pills of that drug to an undercover informant years later.

Ilayayev's parole required that he stop taking drugs and start receiving out-patient treatment, but he quickly got caught falling off the wagon four times. Prosecutors wanted him jailed for violating the terms of his release.

To satisfy a mandatory minimum sentence, Weinstein sent him to jail for one day, and stepped up the treatment to an in-patient program.

Judge Weinstein, who was nominated to the bench by President Lyndon Johnson, called the war on drugs "self-defeating" in a 1993 New York Times editorial, and he announced that same year that he would not preside over drug cases in protest to having to follow mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. Defense attorneys reportedly convinced him to reconsider, arguing that he could make more of an impact from the bench than through his absence.

This May, Weinstein again made headlines by visiting a housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, which was home to eight gang members he had to sentence. The judge seemed remorseful in a 133-page ruling that sentenced those men to minimum sentences of several years, still far shorter than what prosecutors demanded.

His opinion in that case outlined the historical, economic and racial origins of the war on drugs.

Weinstein's most recent opinion gives similar in-depth analysis into oxycodone, focusing on how prescription medications challenge the foundations of drug laws.

Its last page ends with an appeal for courts to opt for the most lenient sentences available, with a focus on rehabilitation:

"Where drug addiction of the defendant is causatively intertwined with a violation of the criminal law, every effort should be made to minimize incarceration in favor of a closely supervised, intensive medical treatment regime outside of prison. Outpatient treatment is preferred, permitting the defendant to be more readily integrated into a drug-free productive lifestyle in the community.

"Where outpatient treatment fails and defendant continues to use drugs, he should be confined to an available non-incarcerative in-patient treatment facility.

"Every effort should be made to avoid incarceration. According to the experience of the court's probation services and experience of its judges, prison appears to increase the likelihood of: inability to conform to community standards, continued use of drugs to help assuage the pains of failure, ostracism, the risks of complicating psychiatric problems, and the difficulty in obtaining a job."

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