Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

The U.S. Sentencing Commission is taking another look at mandatory minimum sentencing and Cato adjunct scholar, Erik Luna, offered his thoughts [pdf] to Commission members, along with other experts. 

The ACLU’s Jay Rorty blogged about what he said and witnessed at the hearing:

I told the commission the story of an ACLU client, Hamedah Hasan, who received a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense under the most extenuating circumstances: she came to stay with her cousin in order to flee a physically abusive relationship, and the cousin roped her into running errands for his drug conspiracy. Despite her previously clean record, her sentencing judge found his hands tied by a combination of mandatory minimums for crack cocaine and the then-mandatory sentencing guidelines based on those minimums. Hamedah’s sentence has since been reduced from life to 27 years, but she still has 10 years left to go. Hamedah has three daughters and one granddaughter. She gave birth to her youngest child in prison, and because of the ripple effect of this sentencing structure, Hamedah’s children and grandchildren are growing up without her. The judge has publicly urged that her sentence be commuted (reduced) and the ACLU filed a petition three months ago asking President Obama to do so.

Another tragic story recounted today was that of Weldon Angelos, who was facing a sentence of 6-9 years for dealing marijuana — until the government added three gun charges carrying increasingly harsh minimums that the law requires to be “stacked,” that is, to be added on top of one another. Even though he never fired the gun or threatened anyone, the fact Weldon had the gun with him on several occasions was enough to increase his sentence to 55 years, in spite of his judge’s firm conviction that the sentence was unfairly severe. Listening to stories like this made me wonder how Congress could have let this state of affairs persist for so long and whether they will ever be serious about changing it.

For more information, go to the FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) web site.

Update: Woman sentenced to life imprisonment for kissing a 13-year old boy and placing his hand on her breast.