The Reality of Federal Drug Sentencing

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The Reality of Federal Drug Sentencing

Postby ecigsnet » Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:43 pm

How Mandatory Minimums Forced Me to Send More Than 1,000 Nonviolent Drug Offenders to Federal Prison

Judge Bennett sits on the district court in northern Iowa, and he handles a lot of drug cases. He wrote in a recent piece in The Nation,

"I recently sentenced a group of more than twenty defendants on meth trafficking conspiracy charges. All of them pled guilty. Eighteen were ‘pill smurfers,’ as federal prosecutors put it, meaning their role amounted to regularly buying and delivering cold medicine to meth cookers in exchange for very small, low-grade quantities to feed their severe addictions. Most were unemployed or underemployed. Several were single mothers. They did not sell or directly distribute meth; there were no hoards of cash, guns or countersurveillance equipment. Yet all of them faced mandatory minimum sentences of sixty or 120 months."

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Federal drug laws create a labeling problem. When you hear the term “drug trafficker,” you might think of Pablo Escobar or Walter White, but the reality is that under federal law, drug traffickers include people who buy pseudoephedrine for their methamphetamine dealer; act as middleman in a series of small transactions; or even pick up a suitcase for the wrong friend. Thanks to conspiracy laws, everyone on the totem pole can be subject to the same severe mandatory minimum sentences.

To the men and women who drafted our federal drug laws in 1986, this might come as a surprise. According to Sen. Robert Byrd, cosponsor of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the reason to attach five- and ten-year mandatory sentences to drug trafficking was to punish “the kingpins—the masterminds who are really running these operations”, and the mid-level dealers.

Fast forward twenty-five years. Today, almost everyone convicted of a federal drug crime is convicted of “drug trafficking”, which more often than not results in at least a five- or ten-year mandatory prison sentence. That’s a lot of time in federal prison for many people who are minor parts of drug trade, the vast majority of whom are men and women of color.

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