Drug Sentencing Policy Shifting at the Federal and State Levels

Drug Sentencing Policy Shifting at the Federal and State Levels

Drug crime sentencing at the federal level has historically been fairly harsh. Many federal drug crimes carry large mandatory minimum sentences, and zero-tolerance policies have often pervaded federal drug crime enforcement. Such harsh sentencing policies can have dramatic impacts on defendants. Given how harsh the penalties at the federal level can be, when facing federal drug charges, having a defense attorney who understands the federal sentencing guidelines and knows what it takes to fight federal charges is important importance for a person accused.

Recently, moves have been made to try to shift federal drug sentencing policy away from mandatory minimums. For example, there is currently a bill before Congress that, for many different federal drug crimes, would lower the mandatory minimum sentence. Reductions in drug crime sentencing for low-level offenders also finally is something being considered. The war on drugs has not been successful. It is good to see at least a small amount of change in the winds.

This attempted shift in federal drug crime policy is reflecting a shift that has already occurred in many states. The easing of some of their drug laws is something that 40 different states, including Texas, engaged in during the time period running from 2009 to 2013 (note: 13 of these states, including Texas, also toughened some of their drug laws during this period).

There are many different things that appear to be driving this shift in federal and state policy. One is a change in public perception of what should be happening when it comes to drug sentencing policy. In recent times, the public has been becoming increasingly in favor of reductions in mandatory prison sentences for individuals who committed non-violent drug offenses and in focusing on treating people when it comes to addressing the problem of illegal drugs. Another is a weakening of government budgets which makes the large costs associated with prisons more onerous.

One wonders if these shifts will continue and what federal and state drug sentencing will look like in the future. What do you think of the shifts? What do you think drug crime sentencing policy should be at the state and federal levels?

Source: Pew Research Center, “Feds may be rethinking the drug war, but states have been leading the way,” Drew DeSilver, April 2, 2014