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Mandatory minimums no longer being used for nonviolent drug crimes?

There are many individuals currently in federal prison who have been charged with very minor drug crimes. In some situations, these offenders were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, because of mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes, these individuals received punishments that did not line up with the crimes that they committed.

The mandatory minimum sentences were created in an effort to slow federal drug crimes connected to the use of crack cocaine. Many had called the sentences unfair, as there seemed to be disproportionate penalties handed down to those who were caught with small amounts of the drug, at least when compared to other substances.

The mandatory minimums resulted in many individuals being thrown into federal prisons for extremely long periods of time. This led to prisons being overcrowded, and required the government to devote a substantial amount of financial resources to pay for housing nonviolent offenders.

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans to disregard mandatory minimums for certain offenses. The administration has stated that it will carry out these objectives by changing the way these offenses are charged.

The prosecutors will list the offense that the accused is being charged with, but the amount of drugs in question will not be listed, as long as the offender can satisfy some basic criteria. These factors include:

  • The offense was nonviolent;
  • No weapons were used;
  • No sales made to minors;
  • The individual is not the leader of or has ties to a gang;
  • The offender has no other major criminal convictions on his or her record.

This does not necessarily mean that the offender will receive a light sentence if convicted. This just means that the mandatory minimums that could result will be removed. Prosecutors may still introduce evidence that discusses the quantity of drugs in question, which could result in the offender facing significant time in federal prison if convicted.

For those accused of these offenses, it remains extremely important to discuss their cases with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help examine the charges that you may be facing, and help you create a defense that could lessen the potential sentences you may receive.

While you may receive offers from the prosecution, it is important to know the consequences that may arise should you decide to plead guilty. A conviction will often carry many additional burdens that you may not even realize until it is too late. It can make it difficult to move past your crime after you have fulfilled the terms of your sentence. Before you agree to any deals with the prosecution, be sure that you have explored all of your options.