When in the process of sentencing a defendant, is it right to individually access a case or to apply a same crime, same sentence standard? The process of sentencing in a court room has drastically changed because of mandatory minimums. Some people feel the process of “one size fits all” judging has helped to ensure criminals are put away for a justified amount of time, and gets rid of factors such as race, age, and wealth when determining a sentence. However, opposers feel as if it clogs up our prisons, keeps judges from doing their jobs, and puts people away for an unnecessary amount of time, especially on first offenses. On the next slides I will be addressing history behind mandatory minimums, current controversy and how this issue can be reformed.
The history of mandatory minimums in the United States started with The Boggs Act of 1951, and has evolved from there on. Under The Boggs Act, a first offense of possession of a hard drug, such as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana, came along with a minimum sentence of two years and a maximum of five. A second offense ranged between five - ten years, while a third ranged between ten - fifteen. Many say the reasoning and support that helped The Boggs Act pass was because of science, fear, and concern for the safety of the public.
Following, came The Narcotics Control Act of 1956. This act focused on trafficking and sale of illegal narcotics. Not only did this act provide a five year first offense and ten year second offense standard, but it also denied judges from suspending sentences and imposing probation.
In the government’s view, they were providing a consequence in hopes to reduce crime rate though fear. However, the Bills had little to no impact on reducing the spread and sale of drugs throughout the country. As the decades went on, the popularity of illicit drugs actually continued to grow. Also, throughout the span of these Acts, new hallucinogenic drugs, which did not come with minimums, were developed and also rapidly gaining popularity.
Today, mandatory minimums have spread from just drug offenses, but to more serious topics such as immigration, guns, identity theft, and even child pornography. For an updated list with more examples visit: http://famm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Chart-All-Fed-MMs-NW.pdf
On one side of this issue, people feel as if mandatory minimums do not keep you safe and do not reduce crime, according to a Pennsylvania study. In fact, 17 states cut their prison populations, of nonviolent drug offenders, over the past decade and all 17 states experienced a decline in their crime rates. Also, according to FAMM, “In 2010, Minnesota saved nearly 1,200 prison beds and $37.5 million thanks to a sentencing safety valve, all without jeopardizing public safety”. Also, the money to fund the excess prisoners comes straight out of taxpayer dollars, almost $60 billion a year. Not to mention that “growing prison populations and costs require the Department of Justice to cut funding for crime-fighting personnel and equipment,” (FAMM.org). Lastly, those against mandatory minimums feel as if unnecessary sentencing tears families apart, even said so by US Senator, Rand Paul. “Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy-handed and arbitrary…we should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence,” -Rand Paul.
On the other side, a wide group of people defend mandatory minimums because they feel as if the sentences reflect a societal judgment that ensures criminals are serving a justified time and cannot use their race, age, gender, religion or wealth to escape a punishment. The decision of a penalty being imposed requires consideration of retribution, deterrence, how it will positively impact others, education and how it will restore the defendant. Some people think that the legislatures they appoint are more qualified and trusted to ration these judgments morally. Mandatory minimums also ensure an offender has completed their sentence before they are eligible for parole, which is decided by parole officials, and not the judge, which many see as dishonesty.
Below is a recent video summarizing the very controversial Brock Turner case, in which a judge sentenced below the mandatory minimum and caused an outrage on both sides of this topic, proving why it is still an uneasy issue.
According to The Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Senate is considering two bills that could possibly reform federal sentencing laws and mandatory minimum sentences. Although these Bills are said to have a much different makeup, they surely have a common goal of improving some of the harsh realities inflicted upon offenders due to the laws as they stand. It has also been brought up that instead of sending a drug offender to prison, why not send them to a rehabilitation facility, substance abuse treatment, drug court supervision or community based programs? But what amount of the drug draws the line? Will rehabilitation still be funded by taxpayers? Another option that has been thrown out there was to implement safety valves, or laws created by congress or a state legislature to let courts reduce a sentence below the mandatory minimum if an offense meets special requirements, (FAMM). Although, this makes sense and allows judges more freedom t judge and do their job, this is the same reason why a convicted rapist Brock Turner walked away with not six, but three months in prison, disregarding a two year minimum sentence.
In my opinion, I think certain mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, should still be in place but reduced based on the amount of the drug found on the person. This would help judge take into consideration just how much the offender was carrying and could spot the difference between a user and a dealer. Also, with any drug related crime there should be a mandatory rehabilitation sentence provided after prison. This could work in a community based setting such as AA meetings, where a certain amount of hours would be required. For any rape crime I believe there should be a set mandatory minimum for all offenders because using safety valves for if drugs or alcohol were involved is similar to making excuses and there is no justified excuse for rape or sexual assault. Lastly, I think the issue of mandatory minimums should be left to the power of the states, unless a case goes to federal court.
“SENTENCESTHAT FIT.JUSTICETHAT WORKS.” FAMM - Families Against Mandatory Minimums. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.
Associates, Tilem &. “A BRIEF HISTORY OF FEDERAL MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING FOR FEDERAL DRUG OFFENSES.” New York Criminal Attorney Blog. N.p., 23 May 2016. Web. 02 May 2017.
Larkin, Paul. “Reconsidering Mandatory Minimum Sentences: The Arguments for and Against Potential Reforms.” The Heritage Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.