Charles Grodin 12/6/12


Charles Grodin, former actor and TV host, talked to us on Dec. 6th.  For the past 17 years he has publicly advocated for people unjustly serving long prison terms for very minor offenses. This is mainly due to the injustices of the Felony Murder Rule and the Rockefeller Drug Laws.


He talked first about the Felony Murder Rule. This “egregious” law has been removed from the books from every country except the U.S. Because of this law innocent people are serving life sentences without any chance of parole. Grodin cited the case of Ryan Holle, a 21 year old, asleep in his bed after lending his car to a housemate, but who was, nevertheless convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. The housemate drove three other friends to a home at which a murder was committed during a burglary. Holle, though miles away from the scene, was convicted as an accomplice. The prosecutor justified the conviction by saying “no car, no murder.”


Grodin then talked about his work to gain clemency for people caught up by the 1973 Rockefeller Drug Laws, ones that impose long mandatory sentences on even minor digressers, usually minorities with no prior records. He described the case of Elaine Bartlett, a black welfare mother who took the opportunity to make a much-needed $2,500 for her family by acting as a “drug mule.” She carried four ounces of cocaine from New York City to Albany, got caught in a sting, and, despite having no prior record, was sentenced to 20 years to life. She had served 15 years at the Bedford Hills Correctional before Grodin’s was able to get Governor George Pataki to grant her clemency just before Christmas in 1999. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that her son, who was 6 years old when his mother was arrested, died at age 30 due to a heart attack brought on by the constant stress of grieving for his mother. Grodin spoke at his funeral saying that nothing can compare to the loss experienced by a loving mother losing her child unnecessarily.


During Q and A the following points were made:

  1. Other countries try to rehabilitate drug addicts. The US is far behind in this area.
  2. There is a fear that legalizing marijuana could lead to users moving on to other more dangerous drugs. Grodin is not sure if this is true.
  3. Drug laws in CT. are much more lenient then those in N.Y.
  4. The California “ three strikes law” has been modified so that the third felony offense has to be a serious one, not simply offenses like shoplifting which previously would have led to a life sentence.
  5. According to Grodin, one of the worst examples of our criminal law system is that the same offense results in markedly different punishments dependent upon the state where the crime was committed.


Thank you Brian for such an interesting and articulate speaker.