Calif. Vet Needs Help Avoiding Mandatory Minimum

In September, I wrote about Sarge Brinkley, a young injured Army vet who returned to the U.S. addicted to pain pills. Once home, he robbed two pharmacies for percocet.

I'm writing again because his preliminary hearing is November 16, and he needs your help. Please send a letter to convince the D.A. to offer a reasonable deal.

A West Point graduate who is currently facing twenty-odd years in prison for robbing a Walgreens under California's minimum sentencing laws. He used a gun (unloaded) and robbed the drugstores of only Percocet - no money, harming nobody.

Here's the kicker -- he was addicted to the opiates after smashing his hip while serving abroad in the Army -- the military medical system
kept misdiagnosing him, and feeding him more of the painkillers. Add in some serious PTSD (he guarded mass graves in Bosnia from desecration at one point) and he spiraled down.

Sargent turned himself in, has been in a rehab program in county jail for over a year and a half while he awaits sentencing, and by all accounts is
doing well. The Santa Clara DA wants to chuck the book at him, and he'll be gone.

The California Report covered Sarge's case last week.


Increasing numbers of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. And with it comes a number of other problems -- sufferers of PTSD are more likely to get addicted to drugs and engage in high risk behavior. A recent case in Northern California has raised a difficult question: If a returned soldier with PTSD commits crimes as a result of his illness, how should the criminal justice system respond?

Even the pharmacist who was robbed is supporting Sarge. From the Support Sarge website:

The Mountain View pharmacist himself has written supporting leniency for Sargent, as have several veterans organizations, military colleagues of Sargent, and concerned California citizens. You can join them! We urge you to please take a few minutes of your time to support Sarge by putting pressure on the DA to pursue a more reasonable sentence. Write a letter, make a phone call, and help achieve rehabilitation and justice for Sargent Binkley.

It's okay if you don't know Sarge or live in Santa Clara or San Mateo County:

Even if you do not live in either of these counties and you do not know Sargent (but are opposed to mandatory minimum sentencing laws or feel strongly about how the military medical system treats our veterans), your letters and telephone calls of support are still needed.

Two uncontested court documents outlining the case and issues are here and here (pdf).

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  • Display: Sort:
    sob story (1.00 / 0) (#6)
    by diogenes on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 11:06:32 PM EST
    1.  A sob story is publicly circulated to excuse a crime.  People's private, painful stories are for work in therapy.
    2.  Methadone and Buprenorphine are in fact opiate drugs which can treat pain and are also used to treat opiate, including percocet, dependence.
    3.  I have personally treated many heroin and oxycontin addicts with Buprenorphine.  They did many desperate things to get their drugs when they were addicted.  Very few committed robberies with guns against other people to get their drugs.
    4.  Victims of robberies with guns are also traumatized and can get PTSD.
    5.  I think that people are using Sarge as a stalking horse against mandatory minimums; the better approach would be a letter writing campaign  to Governor Schwartzenegger who could commute the particular sentence due the circumstances.  An alternate approach would be to actually take the case to trial; given the OJ and Phil Spector situations, a jury might actually hang or find him innocent. If he were convicted, then approach the governor.    

    compassion and intelligence (none / 0) (#11)
    by GuerillaJGal on Sun Nov 16, 2008 at 04:42:30 PM EST
    Cynicism and harsh judgements are the signs of shallow minds and a lack of human compassion.

    Mandatory minimum sentences assume all those accused and tried for crimes are alike. It assumes that no circumstances guide us to different choices, some of them sometimes exceedingly unwise  and/or exceedingly desperate.

    It assumes you are perfect and that you will NEVER NEED ANOTHERS' MERCY. I guess that's what my Main Man meant when He cited that lovely rule about those who live in glass houses.

    We are now moving towards sentencing to rehabilitation instead of to hells best reserved for the incorrigible and most violent. We are becoming more human and in His image. Hurrah.

    I hope this veteran gets the help he needs and the compassion he deserves. If the pharmacist can forgive him, I think we can, too.  


    What? (none / 0) (#1)
    by diogenes on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 01:27:36 PM EST
    "Commit crimes as a result of PTSD"???  Guarding graves gives PTSD-do we have his medical records to prove this?  Alleged PTSD makes you steal drugs from pharmacies?  How do we know if the gun really was unloaded, since presumably he wasn't caught until after the robberies were committed?  It's nice to know that the threat of prison inspired him to go to rehab and be clean; when there was no threat of prison (prearrest), he did not go to rehab/get methadone, etc.
    If he shoplifted and sold the stuff to buy drugs, I'd be a bit more sympathetic.  Mandatory sentences against armed robbery are meant for deterrence, and everyone has a sob story.

    Deterrence? (none / 0) (#4)
    by syinco on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 02:51:56 PM EST
    Didn't seem to work here, did it?  

    Makes one wonder whether there really is a significant deterrence effect, at least for certain types of crimes.

    Ah, it must be because the punishment wasn't high enough! 20 years, bah! I can accept that risk, he said.  

    Legislature better make it 40, that should fix things ...


    Methadone is not a replacement (none / 0) (#5)
    by lilybart on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 06:17:49 PM EST
    for percecet. Have you ever lived in pain for even a couple of days? Changes everything you experience and how you interact and it can be very depressing.

    Again, denying people the drugs they need or just want caused this "crime."


    Non Violent Crime (none / 0) (#2)
    by squeaky on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 02:38:09 PM EST
    everyone has a sob story.

    What's yours?

    Since when (none / 0) (#7)
    by Patrick on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 12:36:22 AM EST
    is armed robbery not a violent crime?  

    There Was (5.00 / 0) (#10)
    by squeaky on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 01:05:20 PM EST
    No violence. It is called reality not theory.

    Since the (none / 0) (#3)
    by tnthorpe on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 02:43:25 PM EST
    above post wallows in moral self-righteousness instead of betraying a whisper of compassion, here's an antidote to its constricted view of real life.

    From the LA Times, a video documentary on the mental trauma sustained by a soldier returning from Iraq.

    Many of the young women and men come home having sustained trauma that wholly alters their personalities, sense of themselves, their ability to relate to others, their basic desire to live. This is more that a "sob story" as anyone with an iota of sense would be able to see in a heart beat.

    Leniency? Sure (none / 0) (#8)
    by libertarian soldier on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 07:56:31 AM EST
    How about 10 years for each act, served consecutively?
    I am a USMA grad currently navigating the shoals of the extremely un-user friendly VA for claims incident to my 32 years wearing a uniform.  But two counts of armed robbery are way beyond the pale.

    Mr. Binkley and his case (none / 0) (#12)
    by GuerillaJGal on Fri Nov 28, 2008 at 03:51:44 PM EST
    Because mandatory minimum sentencing, laws experts now consider unsuccessful in decreasing crime, a polticial ploy,and budget busting for states', many experts are working to change these laws.
    I spoke to Ms. Medved in California last week and learned that Mr.B's trial is pending.
    I am writing a book that includes a section on Mandatory Minimum Sentencing.
    As I understand it, San Mateo's prosecutor is willing to reduce charges; DA Howe from San Mateo is allegedly unwilling to remove the gun portion of the charge although it is said the gun  carried was not loaded. It is the gun portion that kicks in the ten plus years to his sentence if and when he is found guilty.
    Becaue of the unique circumstances, his case may be interesting to Families Against Mandatory Minimum Sentences. www.farr.org
    Mandatory minimums are not popular right now. Judges and judges' organizations do not like them because they remove the ability to judge each case by its individual circumstances.
    Those who believe Mr. B's story is simply a sob story, might ask themselve this: If this was your son, who would you rather have control his sentence --  a judge whose life's work is "judging" or a prosecutor whose life's work is prosecuting? Just thinking out loud.

    I agree that Sargent McGregor Binkley needs help (none / 0) (#13)
    by cisco17 on Tue Jan 13, 2009 at 05:51:14 PM EST
    Now do not get me wrong, I believe if you commit a major crime like Armed Robbery in order just to steal money and/or materials just for the hell of it then you be held accountable and go to jail to prevent and deter this type of behavior. But if you are commiting a major crime like Armed Robbery in order to obtain and/or fulfill your problem or need for pain killers and/or drugs
    because of serving as a Military soldier and/or veteran then we should also take that into consideration and instead of only sending him to jail, he should also be receiving the drug treatment and rehabilitation that will help him to serve sociery once again. In Sargent Binkley's favor he did turn himself in to the authorities and that in itself takes a lot of courage.