Are the Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Offenses Fair?

by tylercook on July 11, 2012

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(US Law) The United States is the only developed country that requires mandatory sentencing for minor, non-violent drug offenses. Following President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 “War on Drugs” declaration, Congress enacted mandatory sentencing guidelines for relatively small-time, non-violent drug crimes. In subsequent years, even tougher penalties have been enacted with cases of minor offenders receiving multiple life sentences while violent and more serious criminals have sometimes been given far more lenient sentences.

Treatment for Drug Offenders Reduces Future Criminal Behavior

Individuals that receive severe sentences for minor drug crimes but fail to receive treatment for their addiction are likely, when or if they are released, to continue to commit crimes to support their drug habit. Many physicians and addiction specialists agree that drug addiction is a disease that requiring proper treatment. Addiction causes changes in the brain leading to cognitive, social and emotional changes in behavior. These neurological changes prevent the addicted person from controlling their drug seeking behavior though they may genuinely desire to quit. Simply locking the offender away in prison will do nothing to change the addictive behavior. Studies have consistently shown that appropriate addiction treatment profoundly improves the health of the addicted person and diminishes the danger to society by reducing their criminal behavior. Dan Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance argued in conjunction with addiction medicine specialists, physicians and public health officials that longer sentences for addicted prisoners goes against fundamental principles of medicine and causes unnecessary suffering, fueling the vicious cycle of addiction, undermining the safety of the public and resulting in addicted individuals often returning to jail at greater public expense.

Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Offenses Compared to Other Crimes

Twenty-two year old James Dossier was sentenced to five years for his part in a small-time, non-violent drug crime. Federal judge John Gleeson was not allowed to consider either Dossier’s minimal role in the drug transaction, his remorse for his offense or his prior clean record and personal background. Judge Gleeson wrote a lengthy opinion arguing against mandatory sentencing in cases that do not involve major drug trafficking. Gleeson further argued for alternative drug treatment programs for minor offenders, stating that those offenders who receive effective treatment are fifty percent less likely to commit additional crimes.

In stark contrast to the Dossier case, Norma Borgono, a Peruvian immigrant who helped her boss steal ten million dollars by falsifying documents, received one year of home detention, four years of probation and five thousand dollar restitution. The judge in Borgono’s case was allowed to consider extenuating evidence such as Borgono’s Latin American culture that trained her to obey male authority and the fact that she received no additional compensation than her regular salary.

Judges Prevented by Prosecutors from Considering Extenuating Circumstances of Individual Cases

When a presiding judge issues a statement arguing that his sentence was too harsh and did not fit the crime, the judge is still powerless to grant clemency to the prisoner. According to the Constitution, only the President has the power to grant clemency and most use this power sparingly, fearing that they will appear soft on crime.

Judge Urbino, who presided in the Borgono case, stated that this case would be his last due to his frustration and feeling of powerless in being denied tools to properly rehabilitate offenders. Judge Urbino further stated that he was tired of being forced to adhere to mandatory sentencing guidelines that did not allow for consideration of extenuating factors. Other judges also issued statements lamenting the prosecutor’s major decision making power in the federal justice system, while judges are reduced to a subordinate role. Many judges argued that the prosecutor’s demand for mandatory minimum sentencing for minor drug offenders has biased the criminal justice system and deprived judges of their proper sentencing authority.

Sources douglas case brings calls for treatment not prison/ year old Gets 3_Life Terms For Witnessing a Drug Deal/

About the author

This article was written by Karl Stockton on behalf of Bay Area DUI Law. Contact them in the future for your legal needs associated with DUI.




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