End Massachusetts Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing for Nonviolent Defendants – Part Two of Two

In my previous post on this subject, last week, I discussed how unjust, wasteful and counterproductive Massachusetts mandatory minimum drug sentences are.

In today’s post I’ll provide some examples: If you bought or sold a little over an ounce of pot from a friend, or anyone, were charged under the relevant Massachusetts statute and found guilty, a judge had no choice but to sentence you to a minimum jail sentence – as though you were the head of a Colombian drug cartel. If you are charged and found guilty of possession of drugs with intent to distribute within 300 feet of a designated school zone, you face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 2 years – even if the transaction had absolutely nothing to do with kids attending the school. As a Boston and Wrentham, Massachusetts drug charges lawyer, I can assure you that all that mandatory minimum sentences have done is swell our already overcrowded prison system. With nonviolent drug offenders – at a cost to you and me of $50,000 per year. These people are not violent criminals, our streets become no safer a a result of their incarceration, violent crime still rages, and less prison space is available for violent criminals.

Thankfully, the Massachusetts Legislature is now considering mandatory minimum sentencing reform. Legislators are considering a proposal to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for Massachusetts drug offenders – a measure that the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Ralph Gants, supports. In what is both no surprise to me yet no less stunning, all of the state’s district attorneys except one steadfastly oppose this measure – despite the fact that the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court supports the measure. Why? Two reasons – one ostensible, one actual: Ostensible Reason #1: Prosecutors argue that mandatory minimums for drug offenses – inflexible prison sentences based on the weight of the substance in question – provide for “clarity and consistency.” (Note: The word “justice” seems to be missing there.) Massachusetts DA’s claim that they were to lose mandatory sentencing, they wouldn’t be able to take the most dangerous defendants off the street. That’s unfounded: Any judge worth his or her salt is going to know when they have a dangerous individual in front of them, and sentence that person to jail accordingly. Actual Reason #2: District Attorneys are elected officials; they’re politicians, and they know that the average voter has no idea how unjust and foolhardy these laws are. But DA’s also know something else” “Tough On Crime” talk works at the voting booth: Voters want a “law and order” DA. Logic and common sense be damned.

Without mandatory minimums, sentencing decisions will appropriately rest with the judge, who will consider a variety of factors, including a prior record, a history of drug addiction, and whether the defendant represents a genuine threat to the public. More proof still: Six years ago, the Rhode Island Legislature ended mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses. Result? Its prison population decreased (by 9.2 percent), and the state saw a decline in violent crime between 2009 and 2011.

Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses was always a bad idea, and has been just one part of a miserable failure in this country’s laughable and ineffectual “War on Drugs.” It has ruined many nonviolent people’s lives, and should end, now. These laws were sold as being “tough on crime.” They aren’t tough on crime – they’re dumb on crime.

Enough of this foolishness, wastefulness and injustice. I urge all my readers to contact their state legislator now and tell them that you support ending mandatory drug sentencing in Massachusetts. The phone number to the legislature is: (617) 722-2000. Believe me, the injustice you prevent will ensure a smarter, saner, safer criminal justice system.

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