For decades, lawmakers and law enforcement officials have touted the benefits of so-called ‘tough-on-crime’ legislation, especially against drug offenders. According to the Huffington Post, however, the tide is finally starting to turn against the War on Drugs, with the Department of Justice spearheading efforts to lessen mandatory minimum sentences and reduce the U.S. prison population.
The change in attitude is largely being attributed to the Department of Justice’s so-called Smart on Crime initiative. Attorney General Eric Holder has spoken openly about some of the failures of tough-on-crime legislation. For example, one in 20 black males in their twenties is currently in jail compared with just one in 50 white males, and the U.S. currently suffers from one of the largest prison populations in the world.
One of the centerpieces of the initiative is the Smarter Sentencing Act, currently being considered by Congress. The act would reduce sentences for drug trafficking, while President Obama has announced that he will use his executive pardon power to release potentially thousands of people currently serving excessive mandatory minimum drug sentences. According to the Huffington Post, while such initiatives would have been unimaginable just a decade ago, they now enjoy bipartisan support from much of the public.
The reforms have been lauded by people who have long been critical of laws that have led to a bloated prison population that has disproportionately affected minorities. Some people, however, are saying that even more needs to be done. A recent column in the New York Times, for example, drew attention to how current laws tend to unfairly punish low-level offenders in the drug trade.
The Times article pointed out that current criminal laws determine the seriousness of a drug crime based on the weight of narcotics found in a person’s possession. Therefore, a low-level street dealer could receive the same sentence for drug trafficking as a person who ran a powerful drug dealing network, so long as they were caught with the same amount of narcotics. The column says that a smarter way of prosecuting drug crimes would be to begin looking at how much profit each member of a drug ring was making, rather than on how much drugs they were carrying.
While the shift in attitude described above will come as welcome news to many, it is important to remember that many of these harsh tough-on-crime laws still remain in effect. Drug crimes are still treated very seriously by both state and federal officials and a drug possession or trafficking conviction can lead to a lengthy prison sentence.
In order to help fight against a conviction, a person accused of a drug crime will need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Such a lawyer can use his years of expertise to make sure all angles of a case are addressed and he will fight to ensure that his client is treated fairly and properly before the courts.
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