Arguments Against Mandatory Minimums

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Imagine being Judge Paul Cassell in the case of Weston Angelos. As a 24 year old, Angelos received a sentence of 55 years for possession of a firearm during his marijuana deals. He never used the firearm, but possession was enough to invoke a mandatory minimum. The judge that sentenced him didn’t believe in the sentence, a sentence longer than the length of a terrorist. Cassell imposed this sentence on a non-violent, first-time offender. Judge Cassell’s verdict was because of harsh mandatory minimums that were imposed in the 1980’s. These laws were created by Congress in the 1980’s to combat the War on Drugs. By imposing these long sentences, it was hoped that it would solve the nation’s drug problems. But it never did that. Mandatory minimums …show more content…
Alberto Gonzales, attorney general for George W. Bush, wrote a speech arguing the benefits of mandatory minimums. In the speech, he speaks about crime rates: “For victims, another key aspect of any fair and equitable criminal justice system is to ensure that those convicted of crimes serve tough and fair sentences. And since 1987, we have had a sentencing system for federal offenses that responded to this demand—and has helped to achieve the lowest crime rates in a generation” (Gonzales). What can be pulled from this is that criminals deserve tougher sentences and mandatory minimums have led to low crime rates and fair punishments. While it is undeniable that crime is the lowest it’s ever been, how can the fact be ignored that these sentences don’t work. Harsh punishments do not reduce crime, especially if they are taken as a joke. An example of this can be found in Evan Bernick and Paul Larkin’s paper “Reconsidering Mandatory Minimum Sentences: The Arguments for and Against Potential Reforms.” The two are legal fellows at the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. In the paper, the two state, “In some cases, mandatory minimums have been perceived as being so disproportionate to a person’s culpability that the offender has altogether escaped punishment. Florida Judge Richard Tombrink ‘nullified’ the 25-year mandatory sentence of a man who possessed (without an intent to distribute) hydrocodone pills” (Larkin & Bernick). As a rule, if the judge is ignoring the sentence and not giving punishment to an offender, the sentence didn’t work as intended. There may have been other factors at play to reduce crime over a generation, but mandatory minimums were not the main