While there are many different crimes that are prosecuted at the federal level, drug cases are some of the most prevalent. As a result of the resources available to prosecutors at this level, it is not uncommon for convictions to be the end result. Because of federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that are applied, these convictions often result in serious consequences, sending many people, including some in New York City, to prison for long periods of time.
Mandatory minimum sentences have been in place for several decades. They were created in an effort to get tough on drug crimes. Many of the individuals ultimately targeted by these sentences are addicted to drugs or poor. To get by they may have become drug couriers or small time dealers. In the minds of many, incarcerating these low-level offenders does nothing to combat the overall drug problem in the nation.
While every situation is different, often individuals convicted of federal drug crimes are convicted of low-level offenses not involving violence. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder proposed changes to the sentences individuals charged and convicted with these types of crimes receive. Rather than send them to already overcrowded prisons for a long period of time, he suggested they instead be diverted to community service and drug treatment programs. In addition, judges would be able to sentence individuals to shorter sentences.
While the impact of this proposal remains to be seen, criminal defense lawyers representing individuals who have been charged with these low-level, non-violent crimes will undoubtedly do what they can to make the idea work in their favor.
Source: Associated Press, "Eric Holder Proposes Drug Sentencing Reforms," Pete Yost, Aug. 12, 2013