Press Release  | 05/12/2005

Instead of Dismantling Draconian, Unpopular Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Extremist Congresspeople Push to Expand Them

Share:

New Bill Would Establish Mandatory Minimums for Every Federal Crime, Force Life Sentences for Minor Marijuana Offenses, Make it a Crime to Not Report Neighbors to Police

Mandatory minimum sentences have recently come under fire from U.S. Supreme Court Justices as well as high profile observers across the political spectrum, so it came as a shock to many that a small group of legislators are proposing a massive expansion of the controversial sentences, instead of dismantling them. The proposed anti-drug legislation is so controversial that even some "law and order" Republicans are troubled by it. Among other things, it would mandate life sentences for some minor marijuana offenses, and it could sentence parents who failed to report rumors of drug trafficking at their teen's school to police within 24 hours to 10 years in prison.

"Our country's prisons are already overcrowded with people serving massive sentences for non-violent drug offenses," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The recent Supreme Court decision provided a perfect opportunity for legislators to do the right thing and untie judges' hands. Instead, they're trying to handcuff the judges completely."

Known as "Defending America's Most Vulnerable: The Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act" (H.R. 1528), it would essentially overturn the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision by making all federal sentencing guidelines mandatory and enact new draconian penalties for a variety of non-violent drug offenses. Mandatory minimums are opposed by the American Bar Association, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and each of the 11 Federal Judicial Circuits.

The bill has been put on the same legislative fast-track as a recent controversial anti-gang bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed in less than two month's time. A similar bill was stopped in Congress last year, but its supporters are determined to pass it this year.

The bill, which has already passed out of subcommittee, could come up in the full House Judiciary Committee this month. The Drug Policy Alliance and other groups have launched a nationwide campaign to kill the bill outright. An e-mail to Alliance supporters yesterday resulted in more than 3,000 people faxing Congress in less than 24 hours.

"Congresspeople should think about what they would want for their own children when they vote on this legislation," added Piper. "Do they really want their son or daughter to go to spend years in jail for not calling police about a college classmate's marijuana use?"

Among other things, H.R. 1528:

  • Virtually eliminates the ability of federal judges to give sentences below the minimum sentence recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, essentially creating a mandatory minimum sentence for every federal offense (including both drug and non-drug offenses).

  • Creates a new offense for people who witness or learn about certain drug offenses and fail to report the drug offender to the police within 24 hours, and/or fail to provide full assistance to the police in tracking and prosecuting the offender. Offenses that would trigger a 2-year minimum sentence include failing to report a neighbor who is storing or selling drugs when that neighbor has children, failing to report anyone who gives marijuana to someone under the age of 21, and failing to report a college student who is selling marijuana on a college campus. The bill is so broad that if a teen tells his or her parent that they saw someone at school sell drugs and the parent doesn't report the incident to the police within 24 hours, the parent could be imprisoned for up to 10 years (with at least three years being mandatory).
  • Mandates a 10-year minimum sentence for anyone 21 or older that gives marijuana or others drugs to someone under 18 (i.e. a 21 year old college students shares a joint to his 17-year old brother). A second offense would be life in prison.
  • Mandates a 5-year minimum sentence for any person who passes a joint at a party to someone that has some point in their life been in drug treatment.


  • Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026 or Elizabeth M

    Share: