Acting head of DOJ division references Missouri man's life in pr - KCTV5

Acting head of DOJ division references Missouri man's life in prison for pot in op-ed piece

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (KCTV) -

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that Vanita Gupta will serve as the acting head of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. 

Gupta has been an advocate of reducing drug-related sentences, including that of a man that was the focus of a recent KCTV5 Special Assignment.

While Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union and Director of its Center for Justice she penned an opinion piece for CNN.com about Jeff Mizanskey.

"The punishment of growing old and dying behind bars for offenses like Mizanskey's is extreme, tragic, and inhumane,” wrote Gupta in the opinion piece.

Mizanskey, of Sedalia, MO, is the only person serving life without parole in the state of Missouri.

Mizanskey's been behind bars since his third marijuana related arrest back in 1993. At the time, the Missouri judge sentenced him under the state's three-strike rule that allowed a maximum sentence of life without parole.

"I'm not here to discuss guilt or innocence, my main concern is why I am treated differently than anyone else,” Mizanskey said. “I believe it's an unfair sentence."

KCTV5 Investigative Reporter Eric Chaloux sat down with Mizanskey earlier this spring inside of a prison visiting area in Jefferson City. He told Chaloux that his days are often filled wondering if the changing world view outside prison on marijuana will mean a chance at clemency.

In the last 20 years since he's been locked up, marijuana is now legal in some form in 20 or more states.

"I never figured a guy would get a life sentence for marijuana, let alone life without,” said Mizanskey. “I thought life without was for violent crimes, people who really needed to be in prison."

Mizanskey's appeals have run out. The only way he could leave prison is if Missouri Gov.Jay Nixon grants clemency. The last time KCTV5 spoke with Nixon's office, the case was still under review.

"Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon should grant clemency to Jeff Mizanskey. Public safety is not served by having him die in prison," said Gupta, in the Sept. 2 opinion piece.

“It is difficult to predict how recent events will influence Gov. Nixon in considering clemency for Mizanskey,” said Ken Balusek, Ph.D., J.D., Director Criminal Justice & Paralegal Studies at Rockhurst University.

“Governors and other state officials can be very territorial when it comes to federal officials weighing in on issues that are primarily state oriented,” said Balusek.

Gupta begins work next week at the Department of Justice. The division she'll lead does not have direct impact on drug enforcement cases.

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