Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
I knew an older woman who was really going through a tough time in her life. She had nowhere to live, no money, no job, and 2 prior crime convictions. Hungry and desperate, she went into Wal-Mart and stole a Little Debbie cake. When she was caught and convicted of the crime she received a life sentence because it was her 3rd strike.
The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, House Bill 1695, in the House of Representatives has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Pat Leahy (D-VT). The Valve Act will directly have a huge impact on the prison population. I ask that you write to your congressman and support this act. Let me give you some background on Mandatory minimum sentencing.
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws set minimum sentences for certain crimes that judges cannot lower, even for extenuating circumstances. The most common of these laws deal with drug offenses and set mandatory minimum sentences for possession of a drug over a certain amount.
How Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Generally Works
As a general rule, a sentencing judge decides your punishment shortly after you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial. Punishments are intended to be proportional to the crime, so state and federal sentencing guidelines suggest a range of sentences appropriate for various types of crimes. Judges need not adhere strictly to these guidelines, but can consider any mitigating or aggravating circumstances related to your specific crime, such as:
•Whether you were the principal offender or just an accessory
•Whether you hurt someone or actively tried to avoid hurting anyone
•Your mental state at the time of the crime
Your final sentence may be within the suggested range but could also be shorter or longer, at the judge's discretion.
How Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws Affect Your Sentence
When your crime is subject to a mandatory minimum sentencing law, the judge has much less discretion in setting your punishment. If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, you will get at least the minimum sentence set by law. The judge is not permitted to impose a shorter sentence. Even if there are facts that would normally provide a reason for leniency, the judge must ignore those factors. On the other hand, the judge may often consider aggravating factors and impose a harsher sentence than the minimum.
The most common examples of mandatory minimum sentencing are the federal drug laws for possession of certain amounts of illegal drugs. For example, getting caught with one gram of LSD or 100 grams of heroin means you will spend at least five years in prison.
Three-strike laws are another form of mandatory minimum sentencing. Under these laws, you will face a specific minimum sentence if you are convicted of a third felony. This could be life in prison without parole if your third felony, and at least one previous felony, were violent crimes. Many states have similar laws, although the penalties may differ.
There Must Be Change
Under pressure from sentencing reform advocates, as well as civil rights activists, Congress modified its strict mandatory minimum drug sentencing regime years ago to create a "safety valve" allowing some — but not all — drug offenders to avoid harsh mandatory minimum sentences. The 2013 Justice Safety Valve Act would expand the safety valve to apply to all federal crimes involving mandatory minimums.
These Laws have a racially discriminatory impact, studies conclude that they waste the taxpayer's money, and they often violate common sense. As a result, nonviolent offenders are sometimes given excessive sentences. The necessity to changing this is to treat drug misuse as a health issue and stop relying on the criminal justice system to deal with the problem.
The strategy, however, calls for the expansion of drug courts, which continue to treat drug users in the criminal justice system, where punishment is often the response to addiction-related behaviors such as positive urine screens or missed appointments.
It is time to stop arresting people for drug use; drug use is not being treated as a health issue. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better.
Advocates say simply expanding public health interventions is not enough given that this Administration's drug policies remain focused on punitive approaches – including arresting more than 750,000 Americans annually for low-level marijuana possession and refusing to recognize the medical value of marijuana.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Sixteen states have decriminalized marijuana, and voters in two states – Washington and Colorado – recently decided to regulate marijuana like alcohol.