The Law Offices of Kathleen Colton, Ltd.
             Criminal Defense / P.O. Box 1364 / St. Charles, IL 60174
HomeKathleen ColtonAbout UsCriminal LawIn the PressComments & ArticlesContact Us

Lawyer fights Ecstasy sentence
By Tona Kunz Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Thursday, July 08, 2004 
A minimum 30-year sentence for a first-time offender charged with bringing 4,500 Ecstasy pills to Geneva is just too long, an attorney said Wednesday.

The 2002 law change that mandated that lengthy sentence is unconstitutional, Batavia attorney Kathleen Colton said in defense of a Canada woman charged with dealing drugs at a Randall Road nail salon.

Two co-defendants in federal court, including one with a criminal record, face four to nine years in prison on similar charges, Colton said.

She called the potential state sentence of up to 120 years "cruel, degrading and a shock to the moral sense of the community."

Colton is seeking to have the distribution and drug trafficking charges against Thi Kim Phuong Huynh, 33, of Toronto thrown out and the 2002 state law that toughened sentencing for Ecstasy possession declared unconstitutional.

Attempts by other attorneys to strike the revised law have met with little success.

At the news Wednesday of how much time she could face behind bars, Huynh looked like she might cry. Her daughter and brother who flew down from Canada to support her began to sniffle and wipe away tears.

Huynh, My Hanh T. Nguyen, 33, of St. Charles, Hoahicp Hoang Nguyen, 28, of Mishawaka, Ind., and Ryan Do, 23, of Berwyn, were arrested March 26, 2003, during an FBI undercover sting at a nail salon on the 1400 block of Commons Drive in Geneva. Police say the quartet sold Ecstasy to an FBI agent. Officers found 4,500 Ecstasy pills in the store and 100 pills on Huynh, according to court records.

A conservative estimate for the value of the drugs is $92,000, said Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Richard Powers.

Out-of-staters Huynh and Hoang Nguyen were charged with drug trafficking and drug possession in Kane County. State residents Hanh T. Nguyen and Do were charged with possession and conspiracy to distribute in federal court.

"Actually, all of it could probably fall under both jurisdictions but we figured the stiffer state penalties were better for the wholesalers who brought it into the state," said Tim Chapman a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney General's office.

The tougher penalties were the result of a campaign by DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett and state Rep. Tom Cross, a Republican from Oswego, in the wake of fatal teen overdoses in Naperville and Lisle.

The law change reduced from 200 to 15 the minimum number of pills needed to qualify as a felony, eliminated probation as a sentencing option and mandated that individuals found to have "trafficked" the drug get their sentences doubled -- at minimum. In Huynh's case, she faces 15 to 60 years on the distribution charges, which when doubled, becomes 30 to 120 years.

"When the law was changed quite simply it created disproportional sentences," Colton said.

She argued Wednesday before Kane County Judge Timothy Sheldon that the state legislature never intended to create a sentence more stringent that what violent criminals would face. She also argued the law was vague on what constitutes "trafficking".

Powers said neither argument held water legally or common-sense wise.

"Dealing with this amount of pills, you are not a petty distributor," Powers said. "You are a major trafficker of drugs."

The state did intend the increase in sentences, he argued, because Ecstasy creates a public health threat. In 2000 alone, 269 people were treated in suburban emergency rooms for club-drug overdoses, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. The same year, look-alike drugs killed several suburban teens.

Ecstasy typically is manufactured out of state, leading legislators to target those who bring it across the state line, Powers said. Huynh is alleged to have flown from Canada to Detroit to pickup the pills and deliver them to Geneva.

Ecstasy: Drugs valued at $92,000