Mandatory Minimum Felony Drug Charges for Nonviolent Offenses Are a Terrible Idea

Mandatory minimum sentences were part of the tough on crime movement a few decades ago. They seek to dole out the harshest penalties to people convicted of felony drug charges and more. In the case of these non-violent offenders, a several-year stint in prison is as likely to “help” them and their community as a kick in the rear.

In other words, mandatory minimums are ineffective and actually counterproductive. Fortunately, some lawmakers are coming to terms with this and supporting a “safety valve” that would allow federal judges more flexibility in these cases.

Felony Drug Charges for Nonviolent OffensesCurrently, if you are found guilty of a felony drug charge or other offense that falls under mandatory minimums, the judge’s hands are tied. They must sentence you to at least as much as the law prescribes. This is unfair for several reasons, namely because no two cases are the same.

Why Felony Drug Charges Shouldn’t Always Trigger Stiff Mandatory Minimums

U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul are pushing for the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, hoping that by allowing judges greater flexibility in sentencing we can undo some of the damage brought on by these often draconian sentences. While this law applies to the federal mandatory minimum laws, states are also making changes and the passage of this could signal additional reform.

The American people are ready to make sentencing reform a priority, and the states are leading the way. Forced by budget constraints to make tough political decisions, states have reduced prison populations while improving community safety. Yet the federal system has lagged behind, and our prison population continues to grow. Our reliance on mandatory minimums has been a great mistake. These sentences have not reduced crime, but they have imprisoned people, particularly non-violent offenders, for far longer than is just or beneficial.

–  U.S. Sens. Leahy and Paul, U.S. News

In cases where mandatory minimum sentences do not apply, your defense attorney can argue for leniency. Particularly in the case of felony drug charges, they can suggest that the facts of the case, your character, and other circumstances warrant a lighter sentence. In mandatory minimum sentence cases, these things really don’t matter.

The current mandatory minimum laws, both at federal and state levels, have filled our prisons and led to the U.S. being labeled the most incarcerated nation in the world. These long prison sentences do nothing to help ensure the defendant is “reformed” when released and can instead serve to institutionalize them further.

The time for thoughtless “tough on crime” rhetoric has come and gone. Now it’s time to look at intelligent legislation that strengthens, rather than weakens our country and the people within.



About David Matson