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.