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Federal Judges Call Mandatory Minimums a Failure


September-October 1997

Mandatory minimum sentencing is a failure, a panel of federal judges said at a U.S. House Judiciary Committee symposium to evaluate federal sentencing guidelines co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Conyers said the guidelines require "overly harsh sentences for drug offenses, especially for non-violent drug offenders" (Gary Fields, "Judges condemn set-minimum sentences," USA Today, September 10, 1997, p. 3A; "Hearing Gives Sentencing Guidelines a Failing Grade," FAMM-Gram, August-October 1997, p. 7).

Thirteen panelists, including prominent federal judges, testified on September 9 that the system of mandatory minimums unduly limits the authority of judges when sentencing offenders. U.S. Judge Stanley Sporkin of the District of Columbia recently had to sentence a drug addict to ten years in prison, while he sentenced an armed bank robber to only seven years. Judge Sporkin said, "If this person was from a different economic background, he would have been going to the Betty Ford clinic." All of the judges agreed that the law has only succeeded in sending more first time offenders to jail than kingpins. U.S. Judge Marvin Aspen of the Northern District of Illinois said, "If this results in less crime and more big fish going to jail, it would be a decent tradeoff. But, it has resulted in little minnows going to prison while the big fish continue to swim in a sea of crime."

Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), told the symposium that mandatory minimums inhibit the effectiveness of the federal sentencing guidelines by inflating federal drug sentences, and remove what little judicial descretion remains under the guidelines.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums - 1612 K St., NW, Suite 1400, Washington, DC 20006, Tel: (202) 822-6700. Fax: (202) 822-6704.