Since President Bush has shown himself to be in a forgiving mood by commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence, perhaps he like to address a few other excessive sentences handed down by the federal courts. If so, he could start with these federal prisoners identified by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) as having received very harsh sentences because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Most of these people are not totally innocent (although the Garrison brothers certainly could be), but many of them don’t seem to have really committed crimes meriting the 10, 15, or even 20-year sentences they received under minimum sentencing rules. In several of the cases, the judge who sentenced them went on the record to complain about the harshness of the sentence.
By far the most common scenario is the girlfriend or wife of a man who dealt drugs. She’s usually addicted to drugs herself. Because she’s at the scene of the sales and often holds the money, the drugs, or a weapon, the law deems her just as guilty of the sale as the man who was in charge of setting the whole thing up, just because something bad passed through her hands.
In almost every case, in a pattern that has been playing out in drug cases for decades, drug kingpins and other people far more involved in drug trafficking are able to obtain very low sentences by testifying against minor figures in the case, often receiving lower sentences than people who simply carried the drugs around or set up a meeting. The minor figures, many of them on FAMM’s list, are too far removed from the action to know enough to testify against anyone else.
Mandatory minimum sentencing strips away the power of judges to decide punishments based on their intimate knowledge of the case. This allows lazy police departments and prosecutors to score some impressive sentencing statistics without having to do the hard work of catching a lot of bad people.