Michael Douglas was among spectators Wednesday as an appeals court panel heard attorneys argue whether his son was treated too harshly when he was sent to prison for nearly 10 years for drug crimes.
The actor sat in the back of a Manhattan courtroom the size of a basketball court as three judges from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard attorney Paul Shechtman complain that Cameron Douglas got the stiffest sentence ever — 4 1/2 years in prison — for being caught with drugs in prison. The time was added last year to a five-year prison sentence Cameron Douglas was already serving.
As he left the courthouse about an hour after the 40-minute hearing, Michael Douglas went to a waiting car across the street, saying: “There’s not much to say. It’s on appeal.”
The appeals panel, unlikely to release a written opinion for weeks or even months, did not indicate through its questions whether it will order a resentencing. Like the sentencing judge, it seemed troubled by crimes Cameron Douglas, 34, committed after he was given leniency in return for cooperating against two of his former drug suppliers. Without the benefit of cooperation, he would have faced a mandatory 10-year prison term after he pleaded guilty to narcotics distribution charges on Jan. 27, 2010.
Shechtman said only 2 percent of inmates are prosecuted when they are caught with drugs behind bars. And he said the Bureau of Prisons had already punished Cameron Douglas with 11 months in segregation and by taking away nearly three months of good behavior credit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Anderson said Judge Richard M. Berman properly considered the unique characteristics of Cameron Douglas’ crimes. Cameron Douglas has admitted that he had a girlfriend sneak drugs to him after he was first arrested and was staying at his mother’s place under tight bail conditions and that he convinced a female lawyer who had a romantic interest in him to sneak drugs to him in prison. He also has admitted continuing to use drugs in prison.
“Extraordinary cases require extraordinary sentences,” Anderson said.
Shechtman said he had “no doubt the judge was angry” when his client was sentenced after he was discovered to still be using drugs in prison. But Anderson disputed that characterization.
“Judge Berman was not angry. He was not enraged,” Anderson said. “There was no emotion. He was disappointed. … He thought it was nothing but wasted opportunity.”
Judge Guido Calabresi asked Anderson why Berman was not entitled to impose a sentence that was double what prosecutors were requesting and was nearly five times what the Probation Department recommended after he became disappointed with the number of chances Cameron Douglas had squandered.
Judge Gerard Lynch said it was understandable that Berman would think: “This guy got a big break and he screwed up.”
Shechtman called Cameron Douglas’ behavior “purely the conduct of an addict.”
Lynch asked whether Berman was entitled to say drug offenders “have to clean up their act and I’m not going to see addiction as a justification.”
Shechtman said he was not suggesting his client should not be punished but rather “54 monthsis an unreasonable sentence.”