Ben Buchwalter

Commission to Review Racially Tinged Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum laws apply to an array of crimes, the most controversial of which is drug sentencing. Essentially, thanks to mandatory minimum laws, which were implemented in 1986 after basketball star Len Bias overdosed on crack cocaine, require judges to determine a defendant’s sentence without considering outside mitigating factors. In the most controversial example, crack cocaine users (who are predominantly black) receive a punishment 100 times more harsh than powder cocaine users (typically white). Back in October, the Obama administration asked the US Sentencing Commission to review the minimums. I called the leadership of Families Against Mandatory Minimums about the story:

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) argues that the requirements have not achieved their intended purpose of reducing crime and scaring minor criminals into giving information about the most flagrant offenders in return for lighter sentences. As any self-respecting fan of The Wire knows, those at the bottom of the drug pyramid don’t get details about what goes on up top. So while the drug kingpins have an avenue through which to reduce their sentences, says Jennifer Seltzer-Stitt, FAMM’s federal legislative affairs director, “[minor users] who don’t have anyone to trade get longer sentences.”


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