Could “Tinkering” On Cocaine Preserve Mandatory Minimums?


Last week’s decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Sentencing Commission easing some crack cocaine sentences amount to “tinkering,” says New York Times legal affairs writer Adam Liptak. He says the U.S. justice system is by international standards “exceptionally punitive. And nothing that happened last week will change that.” Despite what happened last week, absent congressional action, thousands defendants will continue to face vastly different sentences for possessing and selling different types of the same thing.

Paul Cassell, who recently resigned as a federal trial judge in Utah, says the court rulings and sentencing commission actions that give judges a bit more discretion in sentencing may encourage Congress to keep mandatory minimum sentences in place. “It's going to be more difficult to make the case for repeal of mandatory minimums across the board when judges are viewed as having too much discretion,” said Cassell, who now teaches law at the University of Utah and works on behalf of crime victims.


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