DOJ Weighs in On Mandatory Minimum Sentences

The U.S. Sentencing Commission held a hearing yesterday on mandatory minimum sentences. Here is the prepared testimony outlining the position of the Department of Justice which has implemented a task force to study the laws.

Bottom line: DOJ is willing to make some adjustments, mostly minor:

Our study has led us to the conclusion that in an era of advisory guidelines, mandatory minimum sentencing statutes remain important to promote the goals of sentencing and public safety. At the same time, we recognize that some reforms of existing mandatory minimum sentencing statutes are needed and that consideration of some new modest mandatory minimum sentencing statutes is appropriate.


....acknowledging our current advisory guidelines system and recognizing that mandatory minimum penalties provide critical tools for combating serious crimes, we support mandatory minimum sentencing statutes now for serious crimes.

...we believe that mandatory minimum sentencing statutes must go hand in hand with advisory sentencing guidelines

...Thus, reforms of some of the current mandatory minimums are needed to eliminate excess severity in current statutory sentencing laws and to help address the unsustainable growth in the federal prison population.

The better news is at the end:

We believe that no new mandatory minimum should be proposed unless there is substantial evidence that such a minimum would rectify a genuine problem with imposition of sentences below the advisory guidelines; would not have an unwarranted adverse impact on any racial or ethnic group; and would not substantially exacerbate prison crowding.

The ACLU also testified.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jay Rorty testified that the mandatory minimums “create excessive prosecutorial discretion, which is exercised in an arbitrary manner and used to coerce defendants into relinquishing their constitutional rights and punish defendants when they exercise those rights.” He acknowledged that Congress is unlikely to taking action to change mandatory minimums.

“Although we believe the correct policy choice is clear, we understand that good policy and good politics do not always align, and that Congress may not yet be prepared to abolish all federal mandatory minimums,” Rorty said.

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    I agree with the ACLU (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Zorba on Fri May 28, 2010 at 09:02:01 PM EST
    but then, I've been a member for over 25 years, and would be considered by many to be a DFH.  ;-)

    There is no evidence (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Peter G on Fri May 28, 2010 at 11:07:48 PM EST
    that mandatory minimums "work" in any way to control crime or even to ensure fairness and consistency in sentencing.  The DOJ's testimony to the contrary is disappointing hypocrisy.  The real reason prosecutors support so-called mandatory sentencing laws is that these laws enhance the prosecutors' power and control in the system.  The power to charge or not charge, or to drop, the mandatory count lies with the prosecutor.  And nearly the only escape hatch that Congress has allowed when the prosecutor does charge a count carrying a "mandatory minimum" sentence -- which is often grossly disproportionate to the individual defendant's culpability -- is for the defendant to "cooperate" with the prosecutors by turning in or testifying against someone else (who is often someone who doesn't deserve the sentence that s/he would then face anymore than the individual who was squeezed to flip against him/her).

    As always, the logic (none / 0) (#3)
    by JamesTX on Sat May 29, 2010 at 04:44:47 AM EST
    presumes the system works in the way it was designed, and prosecutorial discretion is used ethically. It would make sense if that was how things work. But we all know it isn't, and we all know it is just another way to threaten people into pleas. None of it matters, though, until we can get juries and judges to evaluate evidence again. Mandatory minimums would not be such an injustice if it were actually possible for innocent people to win an acquittal. Acquittal is no longer a possible outcome whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. Juries simply convict, not based on evidence, but based on the fact that law enforcement and prosecutors are seen as authorities -- authorities which cannot be challenged. Disagreeing or criticizing law enforcement or prosecutors is seen as both dangerous and wrong, although Americans have an elaborate system of self deception and rationalizations about how they actually evaluate evidence, reason with principles, control their own destiny, and just happen to "agree" with the authorities. Of course, that is all a face-saving charade. They are deathly afraid of authority and they do anything authorities tell them to. The fact is they simply obey authorities in courtrooms, both because that has been what has been taught for 30 years, and because they are desperately afraid to disagree with authority. The underlying message of the conservative movement is that you are free to question authority, but if you do, then there are consequences -- there is a payback you can expect from authority. Prosecutors can thus get their way on anything by threatening charges whether they have evidence to support them or not -- because juries and judges simply don't evaluate evidence -- they simply obey authority, period. It has now reached the level where it cannot even be questioned anymore. It is so deeply institutionalized that nothing makes any sense anymore. The window has shifted to the point that Americans are just very, very confused and very, very afraid. If I can't find 5 people willing to criticize or even evaluate the fairness or honesty of police or prosecutors in my own living room, then how can you expect any group of people to disagree with them in open court? They rule by terror. Terror works.

    Mandatory minimum sentencing (none / 0) (#4)
    by aahpat on Sat May 29, 2010 at 07:29:24 AM EST
    is among the reasons I am no longer a Democrat. Too freakin many Democratic politicians support this fascism.

    Third parties, Independents and "NONE OF THE ABOVE" get my vote before any right-wing pandering Jim Crow Democrat Drug Warrior does with their mandatory minimums of anal rape tough love''.

    Obama as a Senate candidate in 2004 (none / 0) (#5)
    by Ben Masel on Sat May 29, 2010 at 09:29:05 AM EST
    opposed Mandatory Sentences outright.

    That same year, I'd gotten Feingold to pledge, on the record, that removing them would be one of his priorities in his next 6 year term. Come February of '05, Russ told me he was hoping Obama would take the lead in the Senate, "so it doesn't get dismissed as 'just another Feingold bill.'"

    In June of '07, all the Democratic Presidential candidates were asked about mandatory sentences at the Howard university debate, with all but Clinton favoring outright repeal. (She wanted to keep them where there was a crime of violence in the Defendant's history.) Biden, among the original authors of mandatory sentences, was the biggest surprise.

    I saw Feingold again trhe next evening at the Wisconsin democratic convention, he'd missed the debate, expressed pleasant surprise at the apparent consensus for repeal, and tried to get legislation moving immediately, hoping to get all the Senator/Pres Candidates as co-sponsors. I don't know who balked.

    '05 is when Mark Lunsford campaigned (none / 0) (#6)
    by 1980Ford on Sat May 29, 2010 at 12:58:40 PM EST
    Bill O'Reilly almost nightly called for mandatory minimums and had maps of which states complied. It was not a good time to try to make mandatory minimum distinctions no matter how illogical the connections. In other words, no crisis goes wasted. It's the national Shock Doctrine in action.

    Defeatist logic (none / 0) (#7)
    by aahpat on Mon May 31, 2010 at 06:08:31 AM EST
    So every time Bill OReilly steps up to a microphone and says he doesn't like something that issue immediately becomes an impossible mission to get change through?!

    Democrats are the biggest political cowards there are they have no values. Especially no social justice, civil liberties and human rights constitutional values.

    All that Democrats seem to know is how to appease the Reich-wing of America. They do that really well.


    That is not all O'Liely is doing. (none / 0) (#9)
    by 1980Ford on Mon May 31, 2010 at 01:58:48 PM EST
    He also attacks the science of false confessions by repeatedly having his weekly body language "expert" on as a guest. Science proves that lie detector people, even "experts" like police interrogators, have about a 50/50 chance of detecting a lie. O'Reilly is trying to make this chance guess some sort of science. FoxSooze is very cunning.

    Obama the candidate (none / 0) (#8)
    by aahpat on Mon May 31, 2010 at 06:19:44 AM EST
    IMPLIED a lot of things.

    He also kept his mouth shut when columnists: exaggerated and misinterpreted him to make him appear more liberal/progressive than he is. The drug reform community were grossly misinformed by columnists who took what Obama implied and asserted it as absolutes. Obama just smiled.

    Now we have another Drug Warrior president who have done what little he is forced to do for drug reform. Not out of a sense of rightness or duty but cynically to divide the reform camp between those happy for crumbs and the rest of us who see that the issue is being manipulated.

    At the same time that Obama's drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, was telling his Irish counterparts:

    "We've talked about a `war on drugs' for 40 years, since President Nixon. I ended the war," said Mr Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)."
    SEE: Obama Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske is a Liar

    White White House was announcing the militarization and escalation of the Drug War on the Mexican border. This kind of bald faced cynical LYING is accepted by Obama sycophants. It is this social justice advocate ever further from the Democratic Party.