Mandatory Minimums

A mandatory sentence, in a Common Law system, refers to that people convicted of certain crimes must be punished with at certain minimum levels of penalty. For example, under federal law, selling 28 grams of crack cocaine automatically guarantees  a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison without consideration of circumstance. Since the 1980s, mandatory minimums have been widely applied to drug offences in the US, which is commonly believed to have attributed to the bloated prison population and various other problems in the criminal justice system. There has been a movement recently dedicated to abolish this policy, and multiple non-profit organizations are using Twitter to spread the word.

People want to get rid of mandatory minimums for good reasons. Mandatory minimums have made little contribution in deterring drug offences, they have bloated the prison population, and they often create a bizarre situation where non-violent criminals get more years behind bars than those convicted of assault or murder.

Of course, not everyone is happy to see mandatory minimums gone. For prosecutors,  abolishing mandatory minimums means one less powerful tool on their belts. However, the reasons they can provide pales in the face of the overwhelming evidences of mandatory minimums’ negative effects.

2 thoughts on “Mandatory Minimums

  1. I really enjoyed reading about this topic because I do not know anything about the legal system and had no idea this was an issue. It is the kind of thing that no matter which side of the debate you are on, there is no easy solution. This is why I think this hashtag is so effective – because it gives a centralized place to converse about opinions. It is also clearly something people are passionate about. I would be curious to see what you think the next big step is. How can everyone get on similar pages? Very interesting read.

    1. A little personal background. I’m from China and I’m the son of a judge. I’ve always taken an interest in laws and law enforcement etc. Thus, as I find it fascinating getting to know the another legal system, I have to say I know little about the nitty gritty in US legislative process. So I’m afraid I can provide little intelligent answer to your question, but I can try to provide a perspective. If you want to know more: a funny video about this
      The way I see it, both the official and public opinion are mostly for the abortion of mandatory minimums, and it’s only a matter of time and procedure that it’s gone. However, You’re absolutely right that it’s not easy even when you’re for the abolishment. Because the real question is: then what? The drugs are still there.
      This got me thinking: China’s got extremely strict drug laws, and the punishment’s up to death penalty. This in itself is not at all a problem because it’s consistent with the overall legal system and our (extremely low) social acceptance for drugs. Still, there’s little evidence that heavy penalty works in deterring drug offences. Ultimately, I think drug uses, like most other crimes, are closely related to other systematic problems, say the low social-economic status. Just like an old saying: if you don’t want the land to spawn weed, plant crops on it. If you don’t want people to do crime, give them something better to do.

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