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Click here for more about mandatory minimum sentencing.

CSDP Blog



Majority of Americans Oppose Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

A recent poll indicates that American attitudes regarding mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders may be experiencing a dramatic shift toward individualized sentencing. According to the Christian Science Monitor September 25, 2008 article, ("Poll: 60 percent of Americans oppose mandatory minimum sentences") "In a new poll, some 60 percent of respondents opposed mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans. Nearly 80 percent said the courts are best qualified to determine sentences for crimes, and nearly 60 percent said they'd be likely to vote for a politician who opposed mandatory minimum sentences."

The article states, "The current spate of mandatory minimums has its root in the crime wave of the 1980s, when fears about crack cocaine, in particular, led lawmakers to draft tougher measures to deter dealers. Much attention in recent years has focused on the disparity between the minimums meted out for crack cocaine - often connected with African-American offenders and once believed to be more dangerous than powder - and the powder form. Experts now say the two forms are equally dangerous. Those possessing five grams of crack cocaine - versus 500 grams of powder cocaine - face a mandatory minimum of five years. Last year, the US Sentencing Commission got a reduction of some sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine, sparking a controversy about crack offenders made eligible for release, but the minimums remain the same."

The article adds, "FAMM's new report argues that there's no evidence mandatory minimums have helped reduce drug crime, and in fact, often focuses law-enforcement efforts on small-time players rather than drug kingpins. It also argues that the sentences have imposed significant costs on the system, by putting nonviolent offenders in jail longer than appropriate.'This isn't as volatile an issue as it was in the 1980s, and we're a lot better educated than we were,' says Molly Gill, the report's author. She points to the first time Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes in 1951 with the Boggs Act - which made no distinction between drug users and traffickers - and later repealed them in 1970 when it was clear they weren't working. Today, Ms. Gill sees two potential solutions: repealing the minimums entirely, which would leave the sentencing guidelines in place but allow for judicial discretion, or expanding the existing 'safety valve,' which allows judges to disregard the minimums under certain criteria."

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