NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Mandatory Minimums Spark Dissent in Oklahoma


January 1993

Widespread application of federal mandatory minimum sentences in drug trafficking cases has sparked vigorous dissent among defense attorneys and judges in the U.S. Western District of Oklahoma, where more than 90 percent of federal convictions on drug offenses carry more than a 10-year sentence (Ed Godfrey, "Drug Sentencing Questioned: Guidelines, Length of Prison Terms Debated," Daily Oklahoman, 12/7/92, p. 1).

Many defendants are getting 20- to 30-year sentences, and it is no longer rare for drug defendants to get life without parole. In one case last November, a 25-year-old woman with no prior convictions received life. The sentences are the result of Congressional action establishing mandatory minimums in 1986.

The federal minimums have taken away the prerogative of judges to shape sentences based on specific case considerations, and increased the average length of time federal drug prisoners are imprisoned. According to a U.S. General Accounting Office survey, most judges, defense attorneys, and probation officers, even in traditionally conservative areas such as Oklahoma, do not believe the federal minimums are an improvement, while most prosecutors do.