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Attorney General Reno Questions Mandatory Minimums for Minor Drug Crimes


June 1993

Attorney General Janet Reno is questioning the wisdom of mandatory sentences for minor drug crimes, and is calling for a review that may ultimately lead to their elimination (Stephen Labaton, "Reno Moving To Reverse Stiff Sentencing Rule For Minor Drug Crimes," New York Times, 5/5/93, A19).

Reno has been emboldened by outspoken criticism of these sentences by a growing cadre of federal judges. Recent editorial opinion has been supportive of rolling back mandatory minimums. At the State Level the issue does not appear politically unpalatable in light of growing evidence that harsh drug sentences may actually be undermining public safety by leading to overcrowding and early release of more dangerous violent criminals displaced by drug offenders. However, this is not a problem with the federal sentences.

Justice Department officials told the Times that Reno's review would likely spur changes in how federal prosecutors prepare cases and charge defendants, and might lead the department to urge Congress to ease sentencing laws in upcoming criminal legislation. Reno has been outspoken on the issue.

"This is something that's very important to her and there's a momentum building to make changes," said Reno spokesman Carl Stern. "Her feeling is that it's crazy that a convicted killer can be kicked out of prison to make room for a drug mule, who may have moved a small amount of some drug, but has a family and poses no risk to anybody."