Mandatory minimum sentences have been seen as a problem for years. They have been used in an effort to reduce drug use in this country. Sadly, they have not achieved their ostensible goal, but they have contributed to the problem of too many inmates in prison.
Attorney General Eric Holder has been a proponent of the “Smart on Crime” initiative, which was designed to minimize the use of harsh mandatory minimums for non-violent drug crimes.
This week, he announced evidence that shows the initiative has managed to have an effect on the number of defendants who have been charged with drug trafficking crimes, which fell by 6 percent.
It is remarkable to note that drug trafficking charges make up 95 percent of federal drug charges.
The better news was that only 51 percent of drug trafficking charges carried mandatory minimum sentences, which according to the Washington Post analysis, is the lowest number since the creation of the Federal Sentencing Commission.
But it still points to the larger question of why half of all drug trafficking charge still carry mandatory minimums.
Mandatory minimums were created to fix a problem that did not exist. Congress wanted to appear tough on crime and wanted to force judges to harshly punish drug crimes. They did not want to allow judges any discretion when sentencing defendants.
However, 30-years of harsh punishments have failed to reduce the presence of illegal drugs in American society, and it is time to give judges, who are in the courtroom, hear the facts, see the evidence and observe the defendant, the discretion to sentence as they determine is necessary.
The Washington Post, “The Justice Department is getting smart about drug sentencing. Here’s the data to prove it.” Christopher Ingraham, February 17, 2015