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Sentencing: US Sentencing Commission to Review Mandatory Minimums

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #608)
Drug War Issues

The US Sentencing Commission has been ordered by Congress to review mandatory minimum sentencing. The order came via the National Defense Authorization Act signed last month by President Obama. The act contains quietly added language calling on the commission to conduct several tasks, including examining the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing laws and exploring alternatives.

Congress began passing mandatory minimum laws in the 1980s, especially for drug and weapons offenses. In part as a direct result, the federal prison population has ballooned from 24,000 prisoners in 1980 to more than 209,000 last week. More than half of all federal prisoners are doing time for drug offenses.

Now, the Sentencing Commission is charged with issuing recommendations on mandatory minimums. But don't hold your breath -- this could take awhile.

"It's going to be a massive undertaking," the new chairman of the Sentencing Commission, William Sessions III, told the Wall Street Journal. Sessions said the review would range from weighing the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing on prison population figures and spending to assessing the social impact of those policies. "In my view," he said, "it's a very open-ended request."

Even if the Sentencing Commission were to eventually recommend changing or eliminating mandatory minimums, the final decision is up to Congress. In that regard, recent history is not very encouraging. The commission has for years formally recommended that Congress to undo the sentencing disparity between federal crack and powder cocaine offenses, but Congress has, rejected its advice, except for minor relief when it allowed changes in sentencing guidelines that reduced some crack sentences,although that may finally change this year or next.

When the commission last undertook a full-scale review of sentencing laws in 1991, there were 60 mandatory minimum offenses on the books. Now, there are 170.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


FRUSTRATED (not verified)

Mandatory Minumums do nothing but over-populate our prisons at the tax payers expense.

It frustrates me to know that these mandatory minimum sentencing rules only relate to drugs, guns and
one other area which I am not certain, but it does not pertain to murder, rape, kidnapping or any other violent
charges. What is up with that??? So in most cases we put non-violent pot or drug users or dealers away for
10,20, even 25 years but let the murders, rapist and kidnappers out in less than 10 years in most cases.

No wonder there is so much crime and murder in this country. You can actually kill someone serve 7-10 years and
be out in time to start a whole new life for yourself. Hey why not???

Congress needs to take a hard look at what these Federal Prosecutors are doing to get convictions as well.
They have more authourity than God and will do whatever they need to do to get a conviction. They will trust
a convicted felon already serving time to give someone up by telling them something that they need to help get a conviction
on a person who is awaiting trial. It doesn;t matter if they are lying or only knew the person for a few days. In return the jail house rat is promised to get time off thier sentence for their information. What a way to have to get a conviction?? these people will sell
thier mothers to get out of jail.

If you are going to put mandatory minimums in play then use it for the real problem people, for the violent murderers, child molesters, kidnappers and people who really are a menance to society. Leave the peaceful pot smokers alone.

the Northern Florida District is the worse. Why are the courts in Northern Florida so much stricter than the ones in Southern
Florida?? It is all the same state or is it just because the Federal prosecutors there are much more hungrier for a conviction?

Sat, 11/21/2009 - 9:30pm Permalink
forjustice (not verified)

Mandatory minimums a unjustice served.

Let us take a look at a recent case in Massachusetts. A senior in High School was arrested and charged with Distribution in a school zone. He was later convicted and sentenced to a two year minimum mandatory sentence. The judge looked up from the bench and said I don't want to do this but my hands are tied I have no choice. This was a first offense that took place in a parking lot at a fast food resturant. It was within the school zone of 1,000 ft or approximately 3 football fields. The arrest was after 9:00 PM when schools are not in session and young children are home in bed. He had 6 grams of marijuana (approximately $50.00 worth) on him and the police said that he had admitted to selling $10.00 worth to a friend. This was a first offense and there was nothing more then a couple of grams of marijuana involved. Between the time of his arrest and his conviction he got his GED and was starting to attend community college. He had turned his life around and was going in the right direction. However, the power was in the hands of the police and prosecutor and they would not drop the school zone charges. After all, the police said that he admitted to selling $10.00 worth. So, a young man that was heading in the right direction of becoming a productive citizen was instead placed in jail for two years. Two years in prison for what? So that the police officer and prosecutor can keep a high conviction rate. The judge can not judge fairly in this situation. Most people would agree that this is way to harsh a sentence. The prisons are already overcrowded and violent criminals are being given shorter sentences then this. Also, most sentences will allow the convicted to earn time off for good behavor or to particapate in a work release program. With this mandatory sentence this young man will not have that opportunity and will have to server the full two years. I ask you where is the justice.

Mon, 06/07/2010 - 5:21pm Permalink

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