Gang Bill Fuels Mandatory Minimum Debate Again


The antigang bill expected to be approved today by the U.S. House is part of a new attempt at instituting mandatory minimum sentences soon after the Supreme Court struck down federal sentencing formulas, reports the New York Times. Also pending is a bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee that would apply harsher mandatory minimums to drug offenses. A third bill would establish mandatory minimum sentences for courthouse crimes. “It makes a huge difference with the courts throwing out the mandatory sentences,” said Representative J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), sponsor of the gang bill. “Because that is the only way we know of that you are going to able to come to one of the criminals and say, ‘This is what you are going to face.’ ”

The re-emergence of mandatory minimum sentences has drawn vocal opposition from civil rights advocates and human rights groups, who argue that they are unfair and ineffective. It also runs counter to arguments from the United States Sentencing Commission, an arm of the judiciary created by Congress to monitor criminal penalties, that mandatory minimum sentences are too clumsy for individual cases. “Mandatory minimums waste taxpayer money,” said Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.). “It also has a discriminatory effect: African-Americans for the same or similar crimes get stuck with mandatory minimums more often than whites.”


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