Clinton Should Commute Draconian Drug Sentences

  Clinton Should Commute Draconian Drug Sentences

Posted by FoM on December 23, 2000 at 22:30:58 PT
Bee Editorial 
Source: Sacramento Bee 

By pardoning two low-level nonviolent drug offenders yesterday, President Clinton has moved appropriately to soften the injustice of the nation's harsh mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. There are scores more languishing in federal prison who deserve to have their sentences commuted.Approved by Congress in the mid-1980s, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws require judges to impose lengthy prison sentences on criminals convicted of drug offenses. 
Some sentenced under the law are the dangerous drug kingpins that Congress intended to target, but many others, defense attorneys say and the vast majority of federal judges agree, are bit players. Many are women who simply got snared in a boyfriend's drug operation.The mandatory-minimum sentencing laws ignore many meaningful distinctions: a drug defendant's minor role in the crime; the absence of any past criminal record; the fact that more culpable crime partners received lighter sentences because they were able to cut deals with prosecutors by fingering higher-ups in a drug enterprise. None of those mitigating factors matter. Under the law, federal judges must impose harsh penalties based solely on the amount and type of drug involved.Unlike Leonard Peltier, the Indian activist convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1975 whose clemency bid has gotten high-profile attention in recent weeks, these low-level drug offenders asking for mercy have no history of violence. They have killed no one.Noting that 2000 is a Jubilee year -- a 50th year in both the Jewish and Christian tradition when debts are forgiven and prisoners freed -- more than 675 clergy have written to ask the president to free nonviolent drug offenders. Some 24,000 federal inmates meet this description. The president cannot and should not free them all, but he should free more than two.Eric Sterling, president of the Washington-based Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and a leading clemency advocate, advises the president to appeal to federal judges for help: "Ask them to send him the name of one or two of the cases that they lost sleep over because the sentence the judge was forced to impose was egregious." That seems a sensible first step.The president should also consult prison authorities and federal prosecutors for clemency candidate recommendations. It's hard to imagine a better way to for Clinton to end his presidency than by dispensing a bit of mercy and fairness. Complete Title: For Mercy's Sake: Clinton Should Commute Draconian Drug SentencesSource: Sacramento Bee (CA)Published: December 23, 2000Copyright: 2000 The Sacramento BeeAddress: P.O.Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852Contact: opinion sacbee.comWebsite: Articles & Web Sites:Families Against Mandatory Minimums Justice Policy Foundation for Jubilee Clemency Christmas Carol Gaines Wins Her Freedom Smith Granted The Gift Of Freedom 

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