Changing Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Charges
As cocaine and other illegal drugs gained popularity in the US during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s the American justice system was faced with growing drug crimes. When a star college basketball player, Len Bias, died of a cocaine overdose in 1986, it shocked the nation and encouraged Congress to pass mandatory sentences for drug charges.
These new, strong laws targeted not only high level drug offenders but also low level offenders such as couriers. Under those laws, multiple convictions for small time crimes handed down long, harsh sentences for many people.
A debate arose that questioned if the severe sentences were necessary for small time multiple drug offenders. Bill Otis, former federal prosecutor felt that “people are in prison for their own bad choices.” While others such as Judge John Gleeson stated “Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.”
On August 12, 2013 US Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo regarding enhancements on charging mandatory minimum sentences in certain drug cases. He felt there was a need to refine polices for certain non-violent, low-level drug offenders.
The 2013 Alleyne v United States case ruled that for a defendant to be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence, prosecutors must conduct an ‘individualized assessment’ to ensure the charges fit the circumstances of the case and must take into account factors such as:
• The defendant’s conduct
• The defendant’s criminal history
• The circumstances relating to the offense
• The needs of the community
Basically, the punishment must fit the crime.
US Attorney General Eric Holder feels that long sentences for non-violent, low-level drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation and severe mandatory minimum sentences must be reserved for serious, high level violent drug crimes.
It is stated that due to the rising prison costs have resulted in reduced spending in areas such as law enforcement agents, prosecutors and prevention programs.
In this memo it is reminds a prosecutor to decline mandatory minimum sentence if:
• The defendant’s conduct does not involve the use of violence, threat of violence, or other factors
• The defendant is not a criminal organization leader
• The defendant does not have significant ties to large scale drug trafficking organizations
• The defendant does not have a significant criminal history
But rather than just stop at new offenders, the Clemency Project 2014 takes past crimes into account and invites prisoners who committed non-violent drug crimes to apply for early release or pardons.
It is scary to try to navigate the ever changing laws of the court system. Having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side means you are not alone during this time of uncertainty. At The Law Offices of Travis Koon, we know that all persons have the right to a fair trial, and we will work hard to defend you or your loved ones. Call us today to discuss your case.