Mandatory Sentences at the Federal Level For Certain Crimes Appear Might Be on the Way Out….

We have followed with a great deal of interest Attorney General Eric Holder´s comments on current mandatory minimum prison sentences.  Mandatory sentences were instituted as part of the government’s war on drugs that began in the 1980s limiting the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison sentences.

Under the changes the attorney general is proposing, defendants will be charged with offenses for which accompanying sentences “are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”

 

 

It seems that Holder’s comments are drawing bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

In fact, Conservative lawmaker Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he is encouraged by the Obama administration’s views on mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders  promotes injustice and does not necessarily promote public safety. In March Senator Paul as well as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced legislation to grant federal judges greater flexibility in sentencing crimes where a mandatory minimum punishment might be considered unnecessary. Senator Leahy has publicly praised Holder for his efforts on the issue.  The Senate´s Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the bill next month.

The number two Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he looks forward to working on the issue with Holder and other senators on both sides of the aisle who support change.

It is expected that Holder’s initiative on mandatory minimum sentences will have significant impact, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a non-profit group involved in research and policy reform of the criminal justice system.

Today there are roughly 25,000 drug convictions in federal court each year.  According to Mauer 45 percent of those are for lower-level offenses such as street level dealers and couriers and people who deliver drugs.

Of course, no one can predict how each of the 94 U.S. Attorneys offices around the country will implement changes, given the authority of prosecutors to exercise discretion in how they handle their criminal cases.

It is expected that African-Americans and Hispanics will be the group that most likely to benefit from a change in this area.. African-Americans account for about 30 percent of federal drug convictions each year and Hispanics account for 40 percent, according to Mauer.

If state policymakers were to adopt similar policies, the impact of changes at the state level could be even broader, said Mauer. At the present time, about 225,000 state prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to one national survey from 15 years ago conducted by the Sentencing Project, 58 percent of state drug offenders had no history of violence or high-level drug dealing.

“These proportions on state prisoners may have shifted somewhat since that time, but it’s still likely that a substantial proportion of state drug offenders fall into that category today,” said Mauer.

I am Attorney Martin E. Regan, Jr. and these are my personal thoughts……