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President asks prosecutors to avoid mandatory drug sentences

President asks prosecutors to avoid mandatory drug sentences

The 1980s and 1990s were a time of rising drug-related violence in America. As a reaction to the perceived threat, lawmakers made a surprising offensive in the War on Drugs. They began to pass mandatory sentencing laws for drug crime offenders.

Mandatory sentencing laws are statutes that dictate minimum prison sentences for drug offenses, even if the accused is a first-time or nonviolent offender. Often, these minimum sentences call for months or years of prison time.

Mandatory sentencing laws have been controversial for years, and opponents of the statutes claim that the laws take power away from judges and force them to hand down punishments that may be harsher than they believe is necessary. Mandatory sentencing laws have also been accused of engendering ill-will against our nation’s police forces, as those prosecuted feel they have been unfairly treated. Finally, opponents have criticized the laws for disproportionately affecting low-income and minority people, making it difficult for them to improve their economic situation.

Recently, President Obama made a surprising announcement in response to these complaints. He unveiled a plan to remove mandatory sentencing from our nation’s courtrooms, allowing nonviolent first-time drug offenders to avoid hard time. He instructed federal prosecutors file their charges in such a way as to avoid incurring the mandatory sentence. Experts say prosecutors would likely accomplish this by omitting the quantity of drugs involved in the case from official court documents. This measure would effectively sidestep the mandatory sentencing laws.

Despite the predicted demise of mandatory sentencing laws, drug offenses will remain a serious black mark on a person’s record, one that can have a long-term effect on the jobs one can apply for and the educational opportunities available. If you have been accused of a drug offense, you have the right to defend yourself in a court of law with the help of an attorney, which can reduce or eliminate the charges you are facing.

Source:
Reuters, “U.S. moves to curb long, mandatory drug sentences” Dan Levine and David Ingram, Aug. 12, 2013

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