United States Attorney General Eric Holder recently directed federal prosecutors to indict defendants for certain federal drug-related in a way that would not subject them to the “draconian” mandatory minimum prison (MMP) sentences. To that end, prosecutors must simply exclude from the indictment documents the amount of drugs involved in the case. This will ensure that federal judges will not punish low-level, non-violent drug offenders without a significant criminal background or ties to a gang or drug cartel with lengthy MMP sentences.
MMP Sentences Not Effective
MMP sentences result in too many drug offenders going to prison for too long and for no legitimate law enforcement reason. Holder says that a prison sentence should “punish, deter and rehabilitate, not merely to convict, warehouse and forget.” Florida spends nearly $100 million per year housing inmates with MMP sentences. Only a third of those inmates receive drug rehabilitation. Sixty percent of drug offenders return to jail on another drug charge. Therefore, MMP sentences have not accomplished the intended goals. In light of Holder’s directive, prosecutors in the Middle District of Florida (Tampa Bay) are re-thinking their approach to present and future federal drug crimes.
Florida Should Move Away From MMP Sentences?
Note that Holder’s edict applies to federal drug crimes—not Florida state drug offenses. However, Florida’s legislature has unsuccessfully tried to address the issue of allowing state court judges to depart from MMP sentences for trafficking illegal prescription drugs. These crimes have quadrupled since 2006, and Florida judges have no choice but to hand down the MMP sentence of three years for selling prescription drugs.
Florida’s legislature passed the MMP laws with a “Miami Vice” sort of mindset—cocaine and heroin trafficking, not prescription opiates. Florida police have busted people for illegal possession of prescription opiates or selling them to maintain their habit. Florida drug offenders face some of the toughest consequences in the nation even though 75% of these folks have little or no criminal background. Perhaps Holder’s policy will spur Tallahassee lawmakers to modify Florida’s MMP sentencing laws for the better so our resources to keep citizens safe can be better utilized than housing non-violent minor drug offenders for years.
Source: Tampa Bay Times, Holder’s mandate makes Tampa Bay prosecutors rethink drug cases, Patty Ryan and Curtis Krueger, August 12, 2013