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Mandatory minimum sentences publicly criticized at criminal justice summit

Readers are aware that the heyday of the war on drugs has passed and that there has been a significant shift in recent years at both the state and federal level. Not only has the federal government shifted its prosecutorial policy to exercising greater lenience toward nonviolent drug offenders and taken steps to ease the burden on federal correctional facilities, numerous states have established medical marijuana systems and more are beginning to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and even permit the recreational use of marijuana.

The change in policy regarding prosecution of drug crimes is also evident in the criticisms made against mandatory minimum sentences. These criticisms are increasingly coming from within the “establishment” as well.  Just last week, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Grants commented that it is only a matter of time before state lawmakers abolish mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. That comment was made at the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Summit. 

A primary goal of sentencing guidelines, of course, is to ensure that there is consistency in the way judges handle sentencing. Supporters of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes say that it would be a disaster to give judges complete discretion in this area. Critics of the system, though, say that mandatory minimum sentences remove the ability of judges to impose sentences appropriate to the circumstances of each case and that this results in overcrowded prison populations. Not surprisingly, prosecutors have largely opposed the notion of getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences.   

In our next post, we’ll take a brief look at how sentencing guidelines work at both the state and the federal level, and how an experienced attorney can help a criminal defendant navigate the waters of the sentencing guidelines.

Sources:

Masslive.com, “SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants urges elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes,” Shira Schoenberg, Mar. 16, 2015.

Maryland Reporter, “Removing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes stokes House debate,” Rebecca Lessner, Mar. 22, 2015. 

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