TAMPA, Florida — Jamaican reggae icon Buju Banton will today know how long he will be imprisoned when he appears in the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court for sentencing — four months after his conviction on gun and drug charges.
Today's sentence hearing culminates a tense wait which started with the artiste's conviction on February 22 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilogrammes of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence and using the wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence.
Anxiety has been increasing among close friends, relatives and supporters of the reggae artiste as the singer's sentencing date draws closer.
Last night, a friend of the entertainer who visited him in jail, said that the artiste was trying to stay positive.
Banton, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie, faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years when he appears before United States Judge Jim Moody.
Still, Banton's legal team, led by David Oscar Markus, will argue today for a sentence below the 15 years. Two weeks ago, the lawyers filed a motion contending that the minimum sentence would be cruel and unusual punishment.
"The 10-year minimum mandatory sentence for the drug count and the five-year minimum mandatory consecutive sentence for the gun count are unconstitutional in this case because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and also because it constitutes too severe a penalty for proceeding to trial," the lawyers said in their filing.
The lawyers also stated that the court is well aware that, according to the ruling in the case of the United States v Booker, a sentence "calculated pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines is no longer mandatory". The lawyers also said that Banton's limited role in the drug offence entitles him to a reduction in sentence, while citing the artiste's good character and clean record as it relates to the offence for which he was convicted.
Among the documents filed were excerpts from letters written by four of the artiste's 15 children, pleading with Moody to spare their father the harsh sentence. The document also contained letters from a number of people, including renowned actor Danny Glover, NBA player Etan Thomas, Vibe Magazine editor-at-large Rob Kenner and reggae artiste Stephen Marley.
"Buju remains optimistic and hopeful. He is a true warrior, from the days of the old school. I won't stop fighting for him," Markus told the Observer over the weekend.
Today will also see a decision on a motion by the artiste seeking an acquittal or the holding of a new trial. An appeal is also pending for the guilty verdict against the artiste.
The rastafarian artiste was arrested by drug enforcement agents at his home in Tamarac, South Florida on December 10, 2009 after a drug bust in which two of his co-accused, Ian Thomas and James Mack, were arrested after they attempted to purchase more than five kilogrammes of cocaine in a police-controlled warehouse in that state.
He has consistently maintained his innocence and claims he was entrapped by the US Government.
Mack and Thomas have since pleaded guilty. Thomas, a long-time friend of Banton's, was recently sentenced to 51 months' imprisonment.
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