The war on drugs in this country has in many ways been a failure. Drug dealers are like weeds. When you remove one, you come back to find more have grown in its place. The “drug war” situation in the United States is no longer about capturing the real criminals. It has become a way to pad the stat sheets for prosecutors. Along with the inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences for offenders, the war on drugs has ruined the lives of people who may have deserved punishment but not to the extent in which it was given.
If you’re familiar with Rand Paul in any way then you are already aware which side of the line he stands on when it comes to mandatory minimum sentencing. In a recently released Forbes article, Jacob Sullum recaps Paul’s thoughts from his recent Senate Judiciary Committee testimony:
“Paul mentioned other examples of draconian mandatory minimums, including the 55-year sentence that Weldon Angelos, a 24-year-old Utah music entrepreneur, received for a few small pot sales. Another witness, Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney for Utah, noted that the DEA could have busted Angelos after the first undercover buy but waited for two more, knowing that Angelos’ possession of a gun would trigger stacked sentences adding up to more than half a century.”
It should not be confused that Paul’s stance is to go light on drugs. He has been quoted publicly many times stating that he is not for legalization, and that he feels overusing marijuana can severely hinder one’s ability to be successful and productive in life. In actuality, Paul just wanted judges to be able to do the job that they’re paid for. Every crime is not based off the same actions and as a result deserving of the same outcome. So why should a cookie-cutter mandatory minimum sentence be applied in every circumstance? Judges should be allowed to determine the appropriate recourse for an offender based on the details of an individual’s case. In Paul’s words:
“Paul said the Justice Safety Valve Act, which he and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced last March, would restore some of the discretion that mandatory minimums took from judges. “We’re not repealing mandatory minimums, although I probably would,” he said. “What we’re doing is merely allowing a judge to sentence below a mandatory minimum if certain requirements are met.”
When you judge all offenses in a general manner, you hinder true justice. By categorizing someone who genuinely made a mistake out of desperation in the same category as habitual career criminal you actually remove the process of “judging.”
Many people are affected by decisions made at an age when they may not have been rational in their thinking. Offenders are destined to deal with these consequences for life. Personally I feel that a nonviolent offender who made a single mistake should be entitled to a pardon based on showing that he or she is able to remain trouble-free for a predetermined amount of time. If these qualifications can successfully be met then the individual should be entitled to having their rights back. Paul shares a similar understanding as quoted in his testimony:
Thirty years later, [this one man] still can’t vote, can’t own a gun, and when he looks for work, he must check the box. The box basically says, “I’m a convicted felon, and I guess I’ll always be one.” He hasn’t been arrested or convicted for 30 years, but he can’t vote, he doesn’t have his Second Amendment rights, and getting a job is nearly impossible for him….
For a nonviolent felony, we need to get away from a lifelong punishment.
Our justice system is very lopsided when it comes to doling out true justice. A first-time drug offender is much more likely to serve a longer sentence than someone convicted for assault, rape, or child molestation. None of these actions are condoned but a sensible individual would think that a violent offense with direct repercussions on a victim would carry heavier sentence.
I’m a strong supporter of the end of mandatory minimum sentencing simply because it does more harm than good. The judicial system needs to reevaluate the process in which they handle nonviolent offenders. There are much more effective ways to apply punishment for crimes and the law should never do a judge’s job for them.
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