The LSD Lifers
From 1988 until 1992, Timothy Tyler followed the Grateful Dead. He went to his first show when he was 17 years old and was soon going to as many shows as he could. By his count, he made it to 71.
While attending show after show, he just happened to come across the psychoactive chemical known as LSD. I’m sure it was sheer coincidence. He was gifted his first hit, and many, many more followed. Said Timothy in an interview, “I started using LSD a lot at shows and on and off tour. Too much at times. It was just really common in the Grateful Dead scene and I was able to get it easily.” He also started moving the acid, though he says that he didn’t sell on tour.
Then in 1991, he was arrested twice for selling small amounts, receiving probation both times. Undaunted, Timothy kept helping out his friends. In 1992 his buddy Jeff asked him to mail some acid, and Timothy obliged. But Jeff said that he never received the package, so Tim sent more. Again, Jeff told him that the package never arrived. By this time Timothy was out $600, so Jeff wired him $1,800 and Tim sent off a third package. This one was bigger than the others--it held 9,045 hits. Altogether, Tim had mailed about 1.3 grams on paper, or 13,045 hits.
You can guess where this is headed. Jeff had caught a case and was working for the DEA, an organization best recognized for its agents’ late tradition of South American coke and whores parties, after which the broken glass and ashtrays are ceremonially swept under the rug.
The early 90s was a terrible time for anyone to be convicted of a drug offense, let alone the sale of 130 sheets of LSD. The drug war had reached a brutal climax, with arrests peaking and the passage of the draconian Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988 (thanks, Reagan). Those laws are famous for having created a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, as well as the resulting changes in the racial makeup of the prison population.
Three aspects of Timothy’s case were about to sink him for life. First was the fact that the acid he mailed to the informant was on blotter paper. The federal drug sentencing laws are based on weight: the more of a substance a defendant is arrested with, the heavier his penalty will be. What about the weight of LSD? As you already know, LSD is active at such small doses that it is distributed on a “carrier” unless one is handling large amounts. You may also be aware that the carrier is weighed along with the acid for purposes of sentencing.
This means that, while Timothy mailed the DEA 1.3 grams, he was on the hook for over ten grams. He sent 13,045 hits, which is a lot, but he would have been sentenced the same if he had sent 100,000 hits of pure crystal LSD (assuming a 100 microgram hit). Let that soak in for a minute.
This issue of carrier weight and LSD was created by Congress, but it also bears the seal of approval of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). There aren’t a lot of LSD cases out there so it’s actually pretty interesting to read the SCOTUS’s take on it. If you’re in to that sort of thing. The decision was made and then affirmed in Chapman v. United States, 500 U.S. 453 (1991) and Neal v. United States, 516 U.S. 284 (1996). Remember, these are SCOTUS opinions, so their principles are in effect in your state as well.
The next problem was and is mandatory minimum sentencing. Because the paper Timothy mailed weighed a total of over ten grams and he had two priors, he was now facing a life sentence.
Mandatory minimum sentencing takes discretion out of the hands of judges and gives it to prosecutors and law enforcement. Granted, many criminal law judges are former prosecutors, but if I had to choose I would definitely go with the judge. A judge’s role in the sentencing process is to tailor the sentence to the defendant in order to meet the goals of criminal justice. Judges consider the punitive impact of a sentence as well as the rehabilitative. After handing down a sentence, the judge is aware that he or she will have to try to sleep at night with the decision that was made.
On the other hand, a prosecutor or law enforcement officer’s job is not to be an impartial intermediary by any stretch. Consider the fact that the federal agents in Timothy Tyler’s case would have been well aware of how much acid they had to get him to send in order to force the judge to impose a life sentence. If you’re interested, here is a federal mandatory minimum sentencing chart built by Families Against Mandatory Minimums. It is from 2012. You’ll notice on page 2 that killing a police officer while maintaining a continuing criminal enterprise carries a minimum sentence of only 20 years.
Finally, Timothy’s third problem is that he would not turn on his father, who was also involved in the case. Prosecutors offered him a deal limiting his sentence to only ten years’ imprisonment if he would testify against his dad, but he laughed at the idea. Not only that, but Timothy got word out that anyone else in trouble should testify against him if it would help, and apparently it did. “I also called friends in Florida and told them that they should just cooperate against me if they needed to. This actually saved someone and that was a good feeling.”
Timothy Tyler has been incarcerated since 1992. But, silver lining, he won’t spend his whole life in prison. Thanks in part to the work of his sister Carrie, who started a Change.org petition that garnered well over 400,000 signatures, Timothy was granted clemency as part of President Obama’s unprecedented use of the pardon. He will be released some time this year.
Unfortunately, Timothy was not the only one serving a life sentence for the distribution of LSD. I used his case as a vehicle to convey the principles, but the call to action comes on behalf of another man. Robert Riley was also convicted in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison for the sale of LSD after previously having been convicted of minor drug offenses three times. His sentence was not commuted.
Robert once asked, “what point can there be in forcing a Deadhead to die in prison?”
Sources and Further Reading
Timothy Tyler's Change.org Petition
The Heartbreaking Story Of A Harmless Deadhead Sentenced To Die In Prison [Timothy Tyler]
This Peacenik Deadhead Will Die Behind Bars - Unless Obama Steps in to Save Him
Mandatory Minimums and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Edited by Sidestreet, 24 January 2017 - 06:38 PM.