Calif. Vet Looking at Big Mandatory Minimum Sentence

Meet Sargent Binkley, an army vet currently facing twenty-plus years in Santa Clara, CA. His high school buddies are trying to publicize his plight and have set up a website. Here's his sad story.

Sargent Binkley is a high school classmate of ours and 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.


We, his friends from high school, are writing letters, making phone calls, built a website this weekend, etc., but our megaphone isn't big enough.

Sarge is set to be sentenced September 20th for his two Walgreens robberies, one in San Mateo and one in Santa Clara. The San Mateo DA is willing to mitigate the charges because of Sarge's circumstances in his county, but isn't intervening with the Santa Clara DA who wants to max him out. You can help by writing a letter to both D.A's. See below for details:

We support the elimination of California's excessive mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which give the power usually reserved to judges over to District Attorneys. But changing the law takes time that Sargent Binkley doesn't have.

Public pressure is the only thing that may cause the respective District Attorneys to reconsider; please help us in this fight by writing a letter or making a phone call as soon as you can. Two minutes of your time can help persuade District Attorneys David Howe and Rob Baker to apply a more equitable and appropriate sentence, and obtain justice for Sargent Binkley.

Check out the website and take a look at Sarge. Check out his service to this country.

Sargent was sent to Bosnia after his graduation, where he served as a peacekeeper by guarding the mass graves of genocide victims. From there he was sent to Central America, where he participated in drug interdiction operations. At one point he was ordered to open fire on a truck that contained a civilian teenage boy, an act that haunts him to this day. While on duty in Honduras, he fractured his pelvis and dislocated a hip. This injury was consistently misdiagnosed by Army physicians over the next several years, resulting in chronic pain and an addiction to prescription painkillers.

Then write a letter and support this troop. Even the pharmacist who was robbed is supporting Sarge:

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.

Here's some sample letters:

Sample Letters

  • General Letter Guidelines
  • If you do not know Sargent Binkley
  • If you do know Sargent Binkley

    Write to:

    David Howe
    Santa Clara District Attorney Office
    County Government Center, West Wing
    70 West Hedding Street
    San Jose, CA 95110
    Phone: 408 299-7400
    Fax: (408) 286-5437.

    Steve Wagstaffe
    San Mateo Office of the District Attorney
    400 County Center
    Redwood City, CA 94063
    Steve Wagstaffe
    Phone: 650 363-4636
    Fax: (650) 363-4873

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  • Display: Sort:
    The pharmacist to whom the gun was pointe (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by lilybart on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 11:16:28 AM EST
    has forgiven him it seems.

    Why can't society?

    Pointing a gun (none / 0) (#1)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 11:06:27 AM EST

    Pointing a gun at someone is not a trifle.

    No, It's not a trifle (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 11:23:19 AM EST
    but it also doesn't warrant 20 years, given the circumstances.

    It's not, but let's have some sense ... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Meteor Blades on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 11:28:08 AM EST
    ...of proportionality here. The average served time for second-degree murder in California is just under 15 years.

    Another proof at the insanity of U.S. drug laws (none / 0) (#5)
    by MSS on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 11:29:57 AM EST
    Maintaining the force of "prohibition" U.S. drug laws continue to "throw the book" at drug users who need help. Including drug addicts who commit property crimes 'under the influence.'

    It is draconian to jail an addict -- worse, still, an addict soldier who was driven to self-medication when his country failed to deliver adequate treatment after his war service.

    Guns are bad. We should not have guns on the street. We agree.

    But years in jail will not make our society safer, will not make this man a better citizen, will not keep his neighbors from committing crimes.

    Some time in rehab..... (none / 0) (#46)
    by kdog on Thu Sep 13, 2007 at 10:12:04 AM EST
    may work just as well as a 20 year sentence in keeping this guy from doing any more robbing.

    Heck...giving him free dope would probably keep him from robbing, and both are cheaper on the taxpayer than a 20 year stretch.

    Just saying....if the goal is to keep him from robbing, and I think that should be the goal, there are others way to go about it.


    Disarm the police (none / 0) (#6)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 12:13:02 PM EST

    We should not have guns on the street. We agree.

    Disarm the police?  No agreement there.  

    OT, but, we really want gvt health care?! (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 12:17:38 PM EST
    He moved back home with his parents, who paid for a diagnosis by a private sports physician. The private doctor used a high-resolution MRI and found tears in the cartilage of his left hip, injuries that the military medical system had been unable to find.

    incentives (none / 0) (#44)
    by Joe Bob on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 11:20:05 PM EST
    The military has a strong incentive not to find injuries among its members. Every injury they don't find equals disability payments not made and VA medical care not given.

    would have a different/opposite incentive?!



    Some details, (none / 0) (#8)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 12:45:09 PM EST
    In both cases, Binkley contends [my itals] the handgun he used was not loaded, according to a psychiatric evaluation and court documents filed by his attorney, Chuck Smith.
    iow, no one can state as a fact that the guns he used in the robberies were not loaded.
    On another mission, Binkley said, he opened fire on two armed security guards for drug traffickers as they drove toward him in a Jeep. Both were killed; one of them turned out to be a young teenage boy.
    The armed narcotic drug trafficker guards were shot by Binkley in what looks like self defense. That does not mean the event should not or would not affect Binckley deeply, but make no mistake, an armed teenager's weapon is just as lethal as someone's who's older.
    More than two years after he left the Army [...] Outpatient surgery fixed the problem, his father said.

    After that, the pain faded away and the VA prescriptions stopped, but Binkley said he was hooked on the painkillers.

    I assume those who roundly lambasted Limbough for his addictions will do the same in this case.

    I feel for this guy, but he committed armed friggin robbery. Twice. I imagine everyone who resorts to armed robbery has a tale of woe - that's why they're resorting to armed robbery. Is 20 years too long for someone who commits armed robbery twice? I'm not sure. I admit to feeling conflicted on this.

    if (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jen M on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 01:59:46 PM EST
    second degree murderers serve fifteen years then yeah, twenty years is too long.

    What really weird is the DA setting the sentence instead of the judge.


    The DA and defense counsel have the (none / 0) (#15)
    by oculus on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 02:03:29 PM EST
    opportunity to file written sentencing statements.  the probation officer also files a written report.  The Court decides the sentence, based on statute and weighing the aggravating and mitigating factors.  

    ah (none / 0) (#17)
    by Jen M on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 02:16:17 PM EST
    thank you

    robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and possession of narcotics.

    Oy. And it looks like (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 12:49:36 PM EST
    he did NOT turn himself in to police.
    Los Altos Police Agent Mark Laranjo's team made a medical check on Sargent M. Binkley, 31, of 305 Quinnhill Ave., at 10:15 p.m. March 6 at his family's request. They reported that Binkley "appeared to be all right," Officer Paul Epley said.

    After finding the prescription bottles, police officers questioned Binkley, who told them he had committed robbery, and took him into custody.

    Query: why direct the letters to the D.A.? (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 12:54:10 PM EST
    Better to send them to the probation officer writing the probation report, which will address the aggravating and mitigating factors the court will consider in determining the sentence.  Or send the letters to the judge.  Although I doubt the letters will have any effect, assuming the P.O. and defense counsel are doing their jobs.  

    DA - letters there, please (none / 0) (#11)
    by dapperdanj on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 01:15:52 PM EST
    The court in this case does not have the power to consider mitigating factors.  That's the horrific nature of minimum sentencing law - the probation officers' and judges' hands are tied.  The only thing that can mitigate this sentence is by convincing the DA that charging under these laws is against the best interests of the community.

    Sarcastic - the article you reference is a little off - my understanding from the family is that they, as a family, agreed to have the police come by and have Binkley admit to the crimes and turn himself in at that time.  

    dapperD, (none / 0) (#12)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 01:22:30 PM EST
    the article may be inaccurate, do you have a more accurate link?

    The link states defendant will be sentenced. (none / 0) (#13)
    by oculus on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 01:29:10 PM EST
    Therefore, the charges have been resolved and the DA won't be reducing them.  The Court must weigh the mitigating and aggravating factors to determine whether to impose the upper, middle, or lower term specified by statute.  

    Any change in the state's statutes re sentencing is a Legislative issue.  


    As i read the article (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 02:11:29 PM EST
      the one DA agreed to accept a plea to a robbery charge which did not include presentment of a firearm therefore the statutory minimum is 2 years, but the other insisted upon a plea to a charge including presentment of a firearm so Californias law adds 10 years to the statutory minimum making it 12. In both cases the judge could give greater bit not lesser punishments based on his assessment of aggravating and mitigating factors.

      If he were to receive concurrent sentences 12 years for 2 armed robberies would not seem particularly harsh relative to the types of sentences people receive across the country for similar offenses.



    Not necessarily (none / 0) (#19)
    by dapperdanj on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 02:28:16 PM EST
    OK, again, this information is coming directly from the family and the defense lawyer involved in the case. I don't have a more accurate article, because one hasn't been written.  The Chronicle article is better, but not perfect.

    Second - the one DA has not necessarily agreed to accept that plea, and they are considering having the sentences served consecutively, not concurrently.  Also, that's 10 years in state prison, period.  No medical rehab, no addiction treatment, etc. More expensive + less effective = bad policy.   Nothing has been decided yet, and that's why we're trying to sway the DA - the power is in his hands.  


    "that's why we're trying to sway the DA" (none / 0) (#20)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 02:43:58 PM EST
    Who's "we?"

    You don't understand (none / 0) (#22)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 02:50:43 PM EST
      The DA gets to decide whether to offer a plea which does or does not include the firearm presentment. The former triggers California's gun crime statute increasing the mandatory minimum to 12 years from 2 years. The DA does not get to decide the length  of the sentence (which can be greater than the minimum) and does not get to decide whether the judge imposes consecutive or concurrent sentences.

      As I read the articles, it seems clear that it is the defendant who has not decided whether to accept the Santa Clara plea and the 12 year mandatory minimum that would be available to the judge in that case. He does not have to plead and if he does not like the offer he can have a trial.

      I think we all understand that 12-14 years (or even 2 years for that matter) in a California State Prison is hard time. However, those of you considering robbing people with guns should factor into your decision the fact that most people believe that people who use guns to rob other people should do hard time and that not all prosecutors will agree with your personal beliefs about what is and isn't "bad policy."



    Plea (none / 0) (#23)
    by Upstream on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 03:02:00 PM EST
    Deconstructionist - re: "it is the defendant who has not decided whether to accept the Santa Clara plea."

    According one of the stories, I believe he's already plead no contest in Santa Clara county.


    Well, if he already entered a guilty plea (none / 0) (#24)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 03:19:53 PM EST
      in Santa Clara he should file a motion to withdraw the plea. The good news is that in most jurisdictions the standard for being granted leave to withdraw a plea is more leninent prior to sentencing than post-sentencing as with the Senator.

       I'm not specifically familiar with California law, but in most jurisdictions the pre- sentencing standard is whether it is in the interests of justice to allow it as opposed to post-sentencing when it should be allowed only to prevent manifest injustice. Of course, even with the lesser standard simply not liking the sentence is not likely to be enough.

      But, if he has entered his plea and the plea was to a charge stating the use of a firearm, all the letter writing in the world is likely a futile gesture because the judge would not have discretion to impose a sentence below the statutory minimum no matter how compelling the mitigating circumstances (Frankly, unless there is a lot more than presented here, this is far from one of the more compelling defense cases I have heard.)

      It is possible that a plea agreement could be to a base charge with the prosecutor reserving the right to file an information stating the presentment of a firerarm as part of the agreement, but that would have been a strange plea agreement.


    Yes, he has already entered a plea (none / 0) (#25)
    by jiveassslippers on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 03:32:53 PM EST
    I'm one of the authors of the website.  From what I understand, the September 20th date is to withdraw the plea, but according to the Binkley family, there is a chance that he could be sentenced at that time as well (I'm not a legal expert, so I don't know if that makes sense), hence the urgency.

    Yes, absolutely, I am sure there are more compelling cases.  I'm sure there are people who are way worse off.  We are hoping this will be a battle cry to eliminate these laws, which, objectively, do not serve the needs of the community nor uphold justice in a fair and balanced manner.


    It would not (none / 0) (#26)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 03:43:34 PM EST
    be particularly unusual for the judge to schedule a motion to withdraw a plea to imediately precede sentencing. It would be a time when the court and all the lawyers would be available so the judge could hear the motion and if he denies it then proceed to sentencing. If he grants it then, the parties are returned to square one.

      I wouldn't get my hopes up on this or any case causing a groundswell of support for repealing laws which impose harsh penalties who use guns to commit violent crimes. Not surprisingly, many people in many communities believe fervently that it is just for people who use guns to rob people to face long prison sentences and that the effect of removing people from the community for a long period of time is an objective supported by many people.

      In a nation where there is little outcry over laws that impose ten year mandatory minimum sentences on non-violent first offenders who sell a certain (not particularly large) amount of certain drugs, it seems quite unlikely many will see much injustice in requiring a person who twice chose to point a gun at people and steal drugs to serve a little more than that.

       It's a sad story, but sad stories are a dime dozen.


    All we can do (none / 0) (#27)
    by jiveassslippers on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 04:03:30 PM EST
    is to try and help, right?  We know we face an uphill battle...

    What's sad is that people choose to see things as black and white, and not consider all of the evidence or take mitigating factors into account.  I'd say in this case, there is plenty of both.


    If he wanted (none / 0) (#28)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 04:16:39 PM EST
     ALL of the evidence taken into account he should have asked for trials. Some things ARE black and white, such as he has apparently admitted to twice robbing people with a gun.

      The "gray area" is what should be done to people who do such things,  and you have to understand that many people might think that even considering everything else in his (or other persons' with more or less compelling personal histories) life those are very bad crimes deserving of very harsh punishment and that at most his story is good reason not to give him MORE than the minimum. some might well feel he deserves more than 12-14 years and many people do get more than that for similar crimes.

      This isn't about "objective" truths. Different people have different views-- ALL of them subjective and most people are not impressed with, and some are offended by, the selective employment of "objective" facts or statistics to suggest that one personal view is the right one.

      I admire you for standing up for your friend, but for every person who might see this as unjustly harsh punishment I would bet you could find one who either thinks it sounds about right or not harsh enough.



    Are there (none / 0) (#29)
    by Upstream on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 04:32:29 PM EST
    any good polls on where Californians stand on mandatory minimums? I know they've voted them in, so that speaks quite loudly. But voting rates not equalling public opinion, I wonder how broad the support really is?

    Recent ballot initiative was defeated. It called (none / 0) (#31)
    by oculus on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 04:37:37 PM EST
    for changing 3 strikes law so that 3rd strike must be violent.  

    Arnie used scareaganda (none / 0) (#36)
    by 1980Ford on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 12:41:22 AM EST
    Before he lied and scared everyone nearly to death, "70 percent of Californians support[ed] the initiative."

    Its pretty interesting that CDAA (none / 0) (#38)
    by oculus on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 01:20:17 AM EST
    initially supported the language in the original proposition requiring the third strike be a violent felony.  But CDAA also opposed the ballot measure to make that change.  

    but mandatory minimums (none / 0) (#32)
    by jiveassslippers on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 04:51:10 PM EST
    do not, objectively, serve the public interest.  They are popular with voters because "get tough on crime" political stances sound great from the podium.  That was my point about people thinking in black and white.  But does it make any sense to spend our tax dollars to lock Sargent up for 20 years or more, as opposed to investing the time now to treat him for addiction?  Do you really think so?  Why?

    Does it make sense that if these crimes were committed in only San Mateo or San Francisco counties, Sargent would be facing 2-3 years in prison?  It is precisely the subjective political point of view of the Santa Clara DA that is imperiling his future.  Does that seem fair to you?


    I didn't (none / 0) (#33)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 06:01:17 PM EST
    say I thought so. I said you need to differentiate between your highly subjective view that the better policy would be to provide very lenient sentences and and other persons' highly subjective views that very harsh sentences best serve the public interest.

      Your saying that harsh sentences do not  "objectively" serve the public interst is  perverting language. It is simply  your subjective opinion that money would be better spent in other ways. I could make valid arguments for or against your opinion, but I would not try to portray them as objective because that's nonsense. The very assertion of one goal or another being the most worthy is entirely subjective.



    Let me try to rephrase (none / 0) (#34)
    by jiveassslippers on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 06:39:33 PM EST
    it this way, because I think you aren't understanding what I'm talking about.  I am in no way saying that lenient sentences are better than harsh sentences.  That's ridiculous.  Now that is a perversion of language.

    It is undeniable that some people deserve harsh sentences while others do not.  I am a huge proponent of gun control, but I also believe in understanding the facts.  And mandatory minimums obviate facts and circumstances, which is why they are no good.

    I am saying that "mandatory minimum sentencing laws" and not "harsh sentencing" as you put it, do not serve the public interest.  Please do not conflate these two completely separate concepts.  All we are asking is for people to think about this.

    It is bad policy to overlook the facts, in Sargent Binkley's case and in all cases.  


    So, where's the gun(s) Binkley used? (none / 0) (#37)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 01:18:00 AM EST
    "All" statutory mandatory minimum (none / 0) (#39)
    by Deconstructionist on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 07:24:53 AM EST
     sentence statutes are wrong? Why? Exactly what is wrong with the people speaking through their legislatures deciding that certain levels of punishment are necessary for certain offenses?

      Do you believe there should no minimum sentence for forcible rape or mass murder?

       If mandatory minimumms are "bad policy" because they "obviate facts and circumstances" and require courts to "overlook the facts" then logically are not statutory maximum sentences also "bad policy" because they do precisely the same thing?

      Do you advocate simply giving every judge total discretion in every case?

      You say you are just asking people to think about this, but have you really thought it through or have you just latched on to an argument you have heard thrown around without thinking it through?

      Whatever sentence Binkley gets the governor can be petitioned to grant clemency and in making that decision he can consider the specific facts and circumstances of this particular case and decide whether he believes the punishment in this case is so disproportiate as to call for an act of grace reducing his punishment.

      I'd advise whenthat when you begin that campaign you focus closely on HIS personal circumstances and refrain from "politicizing" your arguments with intimations the military or the VA or poor doctors or a deficient mental health system or... are culpable because that both tends to detract from the notion he has learned from his experiences and accepts responsibility and also perhaps just serves to highlight how much his situation IS similar to the multitudes who receive similar or harsher sentences for similar and even less serious offenses every day in this country


    The Court is obligated to consider (none / 0) (#30)
    by oculus on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 04:36:13 PM EST
    the factors in mitigation (drug abuse, physical injury to defendant, no physical injury to criminal victims, etc.) and aggravation (display of firearm, multiple victims, etc.) in determining the length of sentence within the required statutory limits.

    If you want to advocate for change of determinate sentencing laws in CA, you need to lobby the CA Legislature.


    Army addicitions (none / 0) (#21)
    by Upstream on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 02:50:05 PM EST
    Seems to me the other issue here is that he got addicted to painkillers while he was in the Army. The SFGate story mentions that the doctors (VA?) refilled his prescription 15 times and didn't tell him the stuff was addictive. I'm not sure what kind of treatment he got afterwards, but it seems like if he got hooked on the stuff while in the Army, some of the responsibility lies with them and is the kind of thing a judge would want to take into account during sentencing. The guy clearly deserves a sentence, but 20 years does seem excessive.

    choice (none / 0) (#35)
    by diogenes on Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 09:03:24 PM EST
    People who suffer from opiate addictions can choose to enter drug treatment/get methadone BEFORE they get arrested, can commit burglaries to get money to buy pills on the street, or can use guns (we still don't really know if they were loaded or not) to rob people.
    This man chose to use a gun to commit robbery.  A DA would be much less likely to apply lenience (by allowing a plea to a misdemenor or violation, or even adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) if a gun weren't involved.