Jomari DeLeon made two drug sales over 24 hours, making less than $200. Kingpin? Hardly. Yet this first-time offender was sentenced to 15 years. Even the judge didn’t want to give her that much time. And making matters worse, the same crime today carries three years.
It was not addiction that led Jomari DeLeon to sell a relatively small number of hydrocodone pills over roughly 24 hours, something the judge at her trial described as “phenomenally stupid.” Nor was it a life marked by crime and desperation.
It was a puppy.
It all started back in 2011. Jomari, then 27 and living in Kissimmee, Fla., saw a puppy for sale online and put down a deposit of $100. As time went by, it became clear that she couldn’t afford the balance. The seller, a Facebook friend, suggested she might be able to pay by finding drugs to sell.
“I told him no, I don’t know where to get any pills from,” Jomari said. “After that, he was always messaging me and calling me to ask if I can get any kind of pills to make extra cash and get my deposit money back … every time I would tell him no.”
Finally, after months of pressure, she broke down and told him she could get some pills to sell from a neighbor. Her friend arranged for Jomari to meet a third party and sell the drugs. Over one day, Jomari made two drugs sales, making less than $200.
“After that, the lady I sold the pills to kept calling me and texting me for more pills, and I didn’t want anything else to do with the situation so I changed my cell phone number.” Jomari, an artist, devoted herself to her painting and her young daughter. On weekends, she went to arts and crafts festivals throughout the state with her family, selling jewelry.
A year and a half passed, and in May of 2013 Jomari was arrested. It turned out that her “friend” was a confidential informant, and Jomari’s drug sales were part of a much larger conspiracy. She was released on bond and continued her artwork, also working as a server in a restaurant. In that time, she was offered a plea deal of three years, which she declined. It would turn out to be the wrong choice.
She went to trial in 2015 and was found guilty on two counts: selling 11.6 grams (18 pills) in one sale and 15.6 grams (29 pills) in the second. She was sentenced to 15 years for the first count, and three for the second, to run concurrently with the 15. If she’d sold three fewer pills on the second sale, her sentence would have been considerably lower.
Fifteen years for a first-time offense.
Jomari’s sentence is particularly outsized when you consider how the sentencing law for her crime changed in the period between her crime and the trial. She sold drugs in 2011. That year, the sentence for that offense was 15 years. In 2014, the law changed, and the same offense now carried a three-year sentence. In 2015, Jomari was arrested and indicted for the crime she’d committed in 2011. She was sentenced to 15 years in 2016—even though by that time her crime called for a three-year sentence.
At her sentencing trial, Jomari was upset and confused. She had four-month-old twins at the time, plus her older daughter, and was suffering from post-partum depression. She pleaded with Judge Leticia Marques: “Your Honor, I know I made a mistake. And all I ask is that you please sentence me to the new minimum-mandatory guidelines so that I may be—just return with my children. It’s the new law now. I’m not a bad person. I’m a wonderful mother. I made a mistake. Please do the new guidelines. The new law is all I’m asking for, please. My children need me. I’m sorry.”
Judge Marques’ response: “Ms. Deleon, honestly, I wish you’d taken the three years [plea deal that she was offered]. You didn’t. And this is—I am not enjoying today’s sentencing. No one is. If I could give you less time, I would. If the Appellate Court finds that that there’s a ground upon which I could sentence you to three years, I’ll be happy to resentence you to that.”
Just before the trial ended, Jomari said through tears, “I just lost my whole life.”
She has now been in prison for almost four years, and despite those words, she has tried hard to cobble together a meaningful and positive life. “I am currently working my own canteen store in the visitation park of the compound. I joined the CCI dog team and trained puppies to be service dogs for veterans with PTSD and are physical disabled and children with autism.
“If she’d sold three fewer pills on the second sale, her sentence would have been considerably lower.”
“My children are the world to me and I try my hardest to be there for them and have a relationship with them the best way I can even though I am not physically there. My twins are Yadier and Javier and they are four. Yadier loves Paw Patrol and has so much personality. Javier loves Thomas the Train and is very quiet and observant. They are so smart and sweet. My daughter Lunexys is eight. She is in the second grade and loves to paint just like me. She is in ballet, she also loves to sing and play the guitar. She likes mermaids and My Little Pony and has recently been into these new characters called the LOL girls. They are new to me but she tells me all about them.”
Jomari isn’t the only one who feels strongly that her sentence was wrong. Judge Marques was clear: “You did something phenomenally stupid, but you only did it those two times. Offered the opportunity to continue dealing drugs, you turned it down. So it does seem this is a one-time incident in your life … I do not feel that the 15 years is an appropriate sentence. However, all of my research indicated that it is the only legal sentence in this case and that I don’t have any choice whatsoever.”
The solution? The Florida legislature should make the law that they passed in 2014 retroactive. It wouldn’t just be Jomari who would benefit. Again from Judge Marques: “I’ve had this issue come up more than once on the retroactivity of the new statute. I’ve looked at it. I’ve looked at it very hard because there’s been more than one case where, if I could sentence someone to less, I would have. But I don’t see there’s any opening whatsoever. The only thing I can do for you, Ms. DeLeon, is this, which is—I’m gonna put it on the record. If I were able to sentence you to the three-year minimum mandatory, I would.”
Meanwhile, Jomari waits, with 12 more years on her sentence. “I made a mistake and committed a crime. I understand that what I did was wrong. But I don’t feel like 15 years is a just sentence for my crime. I know legislators felt the same way when they made the changes to the law back in 2014. I just want to be able to benefit from the changes made and get another chance to be with my family and raise my children. I see them often, I get video grams of them sending me kisses and showing me their new toys and photos. I also speak to them over the phone. I have missed out a lot, but they know I am Mommy.”
NAME: Jomari DeLeon
SENTENCE: 15 years
OFFENSES: Trafficking hydrocodone
YEAR SENTENCED: 2016
AGE AT SENTENCING: 33
PROJECTED RELEASE: 10/20/2029