Prisoners and defense attorneys in Florida and across the nation are watching as the Obama administration considers a reduction in penalties for nonviolent drug offenders and doing away with mandatory prison sentences. Benefits would include a reduction in the prison population and a savings of billions of dollars. On Aug. 12, the attorney general observed that people end up spending excessive amounts of time in prison for crimes such as drug possession.
The AG further added that the Justice Department could change the way they charge people related to minor drug offenses that would eliminate current mandatory sentencing laws. Amounts in some drug offenses would no longer be listed in order to reduce the sentences for those crimes. Another consideration would be to give judges greater flexibility in mandatory sentencing; however, this option would need congressional approval. The nation’s AG condemned the mandatory sentencing laws that require even those with small amounts of drugs to serve a lengthy sentence in custody.
He further observed that after more than 40 years, the war on drugs hasn’t been as effective as the nation had hoped. In light of that, along with other moral, social and economic reasons, he wants to look at the reasons behind mandatory minimum sentencing. He emphasized that those with gang ties in the U.S. or other countries could still face stiff penalties. The AG further explained that U.S. federal prisons are about 40 percent over capacity with half of the offenders in custody for drug offenses.
When someone is arrested for a federal drug offense, mandatory sentencing laws mean possible excessive prison sentences. A criminal defense attorney might be able to help clients negotiate a plea agreement, especially when considering possible changes to the legislation.
Source: Reuters, “U.S. moves to curb long, mandatory drug sentences”, Dan Levine and David Ingram, August 12, 2013