D.C. Eliminates Drug Mandatory Minimums
On Nov. 1, the Washington D.C. District Council passed a bill to throw out mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses ("D.C. Repeals Mandatory Minimums," The Activist Guide (Drug Reform Coalition), Nov. 7, 1994, p. 3; Paul Duggan, "D.C. Considers Abolishing Mandatory Drug Penalties," Washington Post, Oct. 18, 1994, p. D1).
D.C. Superior Court is flooded with cases of distributing or intending to distribute crack cocaine. Those convicted of those charges for amounts of less than 50 grams now face a mandatory minimum of four years for a first offense. For a second offense, the required sentence is seven years, and for a third offense 10 years. The bill would eliminate all mandatory minimums for drug charges regardless of the quantity of the drug.
By a 9-4 vote, the Council passed bill number 10-617, the "District of Columbia Nonviolent Offenses Mandatory-Minimum Sentences Amendment Act of 1994." The bill was sponsored by council member William Lightfoot, an independent elected at large. [Lightfoot has sent his staff to NDSN meetings.] The intention of the law is to give discretion back to judges, and is supported by many defense lawyers, drug counselors, and prison officials.
"Mandatory minimum sentences do not increase the certainty of punishment," said Superior Court Judge Henry F. Greene at a hearing before the vote. "They only shift the discretion of sentencing decisions from the judicial to the executive branch."