Former Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan urged members of the House Judiciary crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee this morning to retain mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes.
The panel is considering four bills that seek to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes including crack cocaine offenses and law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty.
The bills under consideration are:
-H.R. 834: Ramos and Compean Justice Act of 2009
-H.R. 2934: Common Sense in Sentencing Act of 2009
-H.R. 1466: Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009
-H.R. 1459: Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009
Sullivan said that the risk of a long mandatory sentence entices drug offenders to cooperate during investigations.
“Without the mandatory minimum, a lot of the regional and national drug investigations would be stalled,” said Sullivan, a partner at Boston law firm Ashcroft Sullivan, which was founded by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said at the hearing today that prosecutors in white collar cases and other complex cases are still able to get cooperation without imposing mandatory minimum sentences.
“There are ways to bring conviction without mandatory minimum sentences,” said Stewart, the wife of Office of Legislative Affairs head Ron Weich. The Assistant Attorney General has said he will recuse himself from all matters involving mandatory sentencing policies because of his wife’s advocacy work.
Subcommittee Democrats said mandatory sentencing laws unfairly target blacks and do not fit the crime.
The panel held a hearing in May about the legislation that will revise the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties put in place by Congress in the 1980s. The decades old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has stood in support of Congress’s efforts to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.
“We know the mandatory minimum sentences do not work,” said subcommittee Chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)
Panel Republicans said some of the laws could be tweaked, but mandatory minimum sentences should not be eliminated completely.
“When the thermostat is swung from one extreme temperature to another, people get sick,” said subcommittee Ranking Member Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
Sullivan agreed with the Republicans. He said there are very few examples of mandatory minimum sentences that were unwarranted.
“The vast majority received sentences that are appropriate under the current sentencing scheme,” Sullivan said.
The panelists at the hearing also discussed the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, which would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty.
The bill is named for former Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who shot a fleeing Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks and tried to cover the incident up. Former Bush aide Johnny Sutton, the former U.S. Attorney in San Antonio, led the 2005 prosecution that outraged conservative commentators and even many Democrats, most prominently Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
Ramos was sentenced to 11 years. Compean received a 12 year sentence. They received the sentences because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), sponsor of the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, successfully lobbied President Bush to commute their sentences in January, which set them free.
National Border Patrol Council President T. J. Bonner, whose organization represents border law enforcement officials, said at the hearing that mandatory minimum sentencing laws affect the morale of agents trying to do their job.
“This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Bonner said.
While Mr. Sullivan thinks mandatory minimum sentencing is an important tool, he fails to point out that many in the U.S. prison population are there because of the laws against pot, even when used as a medicine. He along with the present administration view the pot plant as having no medical value and the cultivation and distribution as a medicine, a serious crime.
This is indeed incredible, that after 6000 thousand years of medical use, such ignorance about the weed can still exist, and at the highest levels of the Government . This fact serves as a shocking testament to the enduring power of propaganda, that even Government officials in charge of the creation of propaganda, are themselves under the influence of falsehoods created by their predecessor’s propaganda.
Recently, a journal of Oxford University published positive findings about the weed, including the work of Dr. Abrams of U C S F, where two lines of female breast cancer cells were caused to die off when put in the presence of certain canabinoids; and yet patients remain open to arrest , prosecution and mandatory sentencing without the option of even mentioning the fact that they are patients, This is in and of itself unjust. Mandatory sentencing makes it an even greater injustice.