Tag: mandatory minimums (page 2)

Bill Introduced to End Mandatory Minimums in All Drug Cases

Via FAMM, Rep. Maxine Waters has introduced a bill to end mandatory minimum sentencing in all drug cases. The bill has 15 co-sponsors.

H.R. 1466, the Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009, seeks to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and to give courts the ability to determine sentences based on all the facts, not just drug weight. It would also refocus federal resources on major drug traffickers instead of low-level offenders. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

The full text of the bill is here. We need a Senator to step up to the plate. Ideas? [More...]

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Eric Holder : Wanted Return of Mandatory Minimums and Tougher Pot Penalties

As U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., Eric Holder sought to raise marijuana penalties and restore mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes. From the Washington Times, December 5, 1996 (via Lexis.com):

Eric Holder yesterday said he will seek to make marijuana distribution in the District a felony and reinstate mandatory-minimum sentences for convicted drug dealers. Mr. Holder,...said the D.C. Council's vote a year ago to repeal mandatory minimums was "misguided," leading to a backlog in the court system. He also warned that the city is on the verge of an explosion in violence associated with the sale and use of marijuana.


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Newly Released Crack Cocaine Defendants: How Are They Faring?

The Washington Post today reports on some crack defendants who were able to leave prison early due to the recent retroactive sentencing guideline reductions. They seem to be coping pretty well, considering the changed world they've returned to after a decade or more behind bars.

More than 7,000 crack cocaine offenders ... have received reduced sentences since March, when the U.S. Sentencing Commission put retroactive sentence guidelines into effect to offset what the commission felt were overly harsh punishments for crack cocaine related crimes, and it is an open question whether they will succeed or return to a life behind bars.

....Nearly 90 percent of those who received the tough sentences for crack cocaine were black men and women. Most users and dealers of powder cocaine are white and Latino.

There were 19,500 federal inmates serving sentences for crack when the reduction went into effect in March. Many aren't eligible for the reduction for a variety of technical reasons. For others, mandatory minimum sentencing laws which trump the guidelines will prevent them from getting a reduced sentence. The Government files objections to scores of requests, arguing either that the reduction doesn't apply to a particular defendant or the court should exercise its discretion and deny the relief.

The recent reduction is but a first baby step towards what's needed to reintroduce fairness into our federal criminal justice system. [More...]

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3,000 Crack Cocaine Sentences Reduced To Date

The U.S. Sentencing Commission says 3,000 crack cocaine sentences have been reduced since the guideline amendment went into effect in March.

There are 19,500 inmates serving time for crack cocaine.

In the 40 or so motions I've seen filed in Colorado (cases in which I had one of many co-defendants) the Government seems to file an objection to every request. It either says the guideline doesn't apply or the court should exercise its discretion and deny the relief.

I've mentioned before that the reductions are small, and only apply to a limited group of defendants. I only have one client out of dozens of crack defendants I've represented who appears to be eligible for relief. Sure enough, the Government is opposing the request.

The Sentencing Commission's report is great news for the 3,000 who have obtained relief so far, but it's a drop in the bucket as to what's needed. Congress needs to change the mandatory minumum sentencing laws. It needs to make the penalties for crack cocaine and powder the same without raising the levels for powder. [More....]

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Crack Cocaine Sentence Cuts Now Underway

The new sentencing guidelines with reductions in crack cocaine sentences went into effect two days ago.

In two days, the courts have granted 400 motions for sentence reductions. A few inmates have been able to leave jail immediately.

These reductions are modest in size, don't apply to everyone and should be heralded by everyone concerned about justice and fairness. The exceptions, not surprisingly, are the Bush Administration and Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who continue to criticize the reductions.

Sentencing Law and Policy has much more on how the implementation of the reductions is progressing.

I'm looking forward to a Democratic President in November who will provide Congress with an impetus to move on legislation that will eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder once and for all, and also reduce or eliminate the true cancer on the criminal justice system -- mandatory minimum drug sentences.

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Hillary Again States Opposition to Mandatory Minimums

Via Sentencing Law and Policy, Hillary was interviewed by Vibe Magazine last weekend.

VIBE: In your speech, you talked about having first, second, and third chances for children. In the last ten years the rate of incarceration of women has increased exponentially. I don’t think the average person realizes that it’s not 50% or 100%, it’s like 750% in the last thirty years. There are a disproportionate number of African-American men and women who are going to be released from prison with felony convictions. What do we do about that group of people who are effectively disenfranchised when they come out?

CLINTON: Number one, we need to divert more people from the prison system. We have too many people in prison for non-violent drug offenses, which disproportionately impacts on the African-American community. That’s why I’ve been a strong advocate of eliminating the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine [sentencing].

There may have been a reason for it 25 years ago but there isn’t any justification for it now. But it also means that in the prisons themselves, we’ve got to get back to the services that used to be there.


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Mandatory Minimum Rally In Advance of Hearing Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning, the ACLU will hold a rally in Washington on the unfairness of mandatory minimum sentences, and specifically, the need to repair the 100:1 crack to powder cocaine sentencing disparity.(Received by e-mail, no link yet.)

Speakers at the rally include:

  • Dorothy Gaines, who was charged with conspiracy to deliver crack cocaine due to her then-boyfriend’s alleged participation in a large-scale drug operation as a driver. Ms. Gaines served 6 years of a 19½ year sentence before being granted clemency by President Clinton in 2000.
  • Karen Garrison, whose sons are currently serving 15+ years in federal prison for non-violent crack cocaine offenses.
  • Kemba Smith, who was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to 24.5 years on charges of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and related charges after a failed relationship, despite her lack of involvement in any drug dealing operation.

The ACLU's written testimony on the need to reform these draconian, unfair penalties is here.

Several bills to reduce the injustice are pending in Congress. I outlined them here. A hearing is scheduled on them tomorrow before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. [More...]

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The Sentencing of Sergeant Patrick Lett

Update: Here's the cert petition (pdf) filed today, which Prof. Berman quotes from here. They'd also welcome amicus briefs.

A must-read article in the New York Times today about Sgt. Patrick Lett and his cocaine sentencing in Alabama. Law Prof Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy, who is now representing Sgt. Lett pro bono, has lots more.

First, about Sgt. Lett:

Sgt. Patrick Lett, had served 17 years in the Army, including two tours in Iraq, and he had pleaded guilty in federal court to selling cocaine. It was up to Judge William H. Steele, a former marine, to decide how to punish him. “I don’t normally see people standing before me in uniform,” Judge Steele said.

Sergeant Lett’s commanding officer, Capt. Michael Iannuccilli, testified that the man he knew was “a patriot, father and a good man.” “I would gladly deploy to Iraq with him and entrust my life to him,” Captain Iannuccilli said. “I’d trust my soldiers’ lives to him. He’s been nothing but an exemplary soldier.”...

The judge's hands were tied by the mandatory minimum 5 year penalty. He wanted to give Lett as short a sentence as possible. Read below what happened:

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Idaho Considers Bill to Lessen Mandatory Minimums

A bill introduced in Idaho to allow judges to depart below state mandatory minimum sentencing laws for defendants marginally involved in drug dealing will get a full hearing before the state's House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee.

The bill is co-sponsored by three Republicans and one Democrat.

Idaho now has 7,400 people behind bars. More than half of them are there due to drug-related offenses. The state has shipped about 500 people to other states because there's no more room in prisons in Idaho.

Under the bill, judges could opt for shorter, treatment-focused sentences for addicts convicted of drug-dealing crimes, on the presumption that if they get clean they're less likely to re-offend.

One Republican legislator says of the bill,

"Our prisons are pumped full. It would be nice to give judges discretion about whether to send somebody to prison or to some other treatment program. In reality, they're the ones that are sitting on the front lines, not the legislators who are making the laws."

Another bill pending in the state would expand drug courts. Hopefully we'll see other states -- and ultimately the feds -- follow suit.

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Mukasey Asks Congress to Block Release for Non-First Time Crack Offenders

Bump and Update: The ACLU reports on Mukasey's testimony today. The Washington Post and Sentencing Law and Policy have more.


Original Post: 2/6/08

Bad news from Attorney General Michael Mukasey today. In written testimony to be delivered at a House Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow, he will ask Congress to block the release of crack offenders currently serving sentences except for first-time, non-violent offenders. It's unclear whether Congress would act in time.


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The Criminal Justice Moment of the South Carolina Debate

There was only one reference to criminal justice issues in the South Carolina debate. It had Obama and Hillary in agreement. John Edwards didn't weigh in on it, but he would agree as well.

From the transcript: [More....]

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Crack Cocaine Guideline Reductions and Mandatory Minimums

Adam Liptak in the New York Times has a new column on the recent sentencing guideline reductions for crack cocaine. He posits that as a result of the reductions, Congress may be less likely to reduce mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine since Judges now have more discretion in sentencing and Congress won't want to give judges unfettered discretion.

There are several bills kicking around Congress meant to harmonize cocaine sentencing laws. But, perhaps perversely, the Supreme Court’s decisions last Monday may make Congressional action less likely. Letting judges have too much discretion does not sit well with some legislators, and that discretion can be controlled through mandatory minimums.

His source for that theory is former (very conservative) Judge and victims' rights advocate Paul Cassell. I've never agreed with Cassell about anything, particularly his attempts to repeal Miranda rights, push the death penalty and make light of false confessions and wrongful convictions, but I sure hope he's wrong on this one.

Liptak describes the penalties for powder as if they are way too lenient,

Fifty grams of crack equals a guaranteed 10 years. It takes five kilograms of powder to mandate the same sentence. Five kilos is a lot of cocaine.

I think that's a backwards way of looking at it. The better view is that ten years is a long jail sentence -- for any non-violent drug offense, regardless of the quantity.

I'm wondering if Liptak's use of the phrase "a lot of cocaine" is the result of someone whispering in his ear that the only way the crack penalties go down is if the powder penalties go up. That would be a terrible injustice.

The pending reform bills are here. Two call for equalization. The bills could be put on the agenda early next year. It's time to start contacting your Senators and Congresspersons and telling them to equalize the crack and powder cocaine penalties at the current powder levels. Two wrongs don't make a right.

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