Many nonviolent and low-level
drug offenders will no longer have to fear mandatory minimum sentences, Attorney General
Eric Holder announced yesterday.
Mandatory minimums have been controversial since they were implemented
in the 1980s as part of the "war on drugs." This series of laws
requires judges to sentence drug offenders to mandatory minimum periods
of incarceration if caught with certain amounts of illegal drugs. Holder
proposes that these mandatory minimums only apply to violent drug offenders
and those who have connections with traffickers and cartels.
Holder, along with many others, is of the belief that these lengthy prison
sentences do little more than crowd the already overpopulated state and
federal prisons. "We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way
to becoming a safer nation," he said in his announcement.
Many civil rights advocates also believe that these mandatory minimum sentences
perpetuate the cycle of incarceration in poor and minority communities.
For example, children who grow up with at least one parent who is incarcerated
are more than twice as likely to follow in that pattern and become incarcerated
at some point in their lifetime. It is also extremely difficult for individuals
who have served time for a felony offense to acclimate back into society.
Many employers will not hire convicted felons, it may be difficult to
get a loan and voting privileges could be taken away, all of which contribute
to the recidivism rate.
The United States is home to five percent of the world population, and
yet nearly a quarter of the world's prison population. Since the 1980s,
federal prison numbers have expanded by approximately 800 percent. As
an alternative to prison, Holder proposes more community service and drug
rehabilitation programs. Many states have already implemented similar
types of alternative sentencing and rehabilitation programs and have seen
much success in deterring repeat offenders.
What does this proposal mean for individuals who are currently serving
prison sentences for low-level and nonviolent drug offenses? Pending federal
review, some of these convicted felons may begin to be entitled to "compassionate
release," for example, those who are elderly or have serious medical
conditions. The federal Bureau of Prisons stated that it plans to develop
a program that can easily identify good candidates for early release from
incarceration into alternative treatment programs.
If you are convicted of a felony offense in the state of California, this
counts as a "strike" on your record per California's
Three Strikes Law. Recently, this statute was amended so that only those who are convicted
of a third
violent felony offense will be subject to the penalties stated in Three Strikes
Law. Currently, this is about as far as the state of California has gone
in the direction of lightening felony sentencing requirements. If you
have been arrested or charged with a felony drug offense, Atty Gen Holder's
recent announcement directly applies to you.
Contact a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer from Martinian & Associates to discuss.