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MN Sentencing Proposal Would Give Judges Latitude In Drug Cases

An emotional crowd jammed a hearing yesterday as Minnesota leaders tried sorting through a proposal to overhaul the state’s drug sentencing guidelines to decrease prison time and better distinguish addicts from potentially violent drug dealers, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Nearly three dozen people, from faith leaders and recovering addicts to police officers, addressed the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to offer two distinct viewpoints. Supporters of the changes say the state's sentencing laws are draconian and tearing apart families, as […]

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Why Did 95 Federal Inmates Get Clemency, And Thousands Did Not?

Last week, President Obama commuted the sentences of 95 federal prisoners, but not for Weldon Angelos and thousands of others who had applied. “I felt sick,” said Angelos, 36, who is serving a 55-year sentence for selling about $1,000 worth of marijuana. “It was devastating.” The Washington Post says that for those who didn’t make the cut, the exclusion was a hard blow. “It was a great day for those who won the lottery and one more disappointment for everyone […]

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9,000 Clemency Applications Still Pending After Obama Grants 95

The 95 commutations of drug sentences that President Obama signed on Friday were more than double the number he granted this summer, reports the Washington Post. It was the third time this year that the president has used his unique clemency power to release federal drug offenders, whose harsh sentences have contributed to the phenomenon of mass incarceration. Obama has argued that federal sentencing laws have subjected too many nonviolent inmates to decades behind bars, disproportionately hurting minority communities. The […]

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Obama Commutes 95 Drug Sentences; Many More Inmates Eligible

President Obama today commuted the prison sentences of 95 drug offenders, the Washington Post reports. With a year to go in the Obama presidency, the clemency numbers are falling short of the administration’s rhetoric, NPR reports. Volunteers in an effort called Clemency Project 2014 are sifting through 34,000 applications from federal inmates. Half of them turned out to be ineligible under White House criteria, mostly because they hadn’t served at least 10 years behind bars or because they had a […]

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War on Drugs Hits Hardest on Black Americans

The failed war on drugs has been ‘devastating’ for African-Americans, says a report released by the Brookings Institution. Between 1993- 2011, there were three million admissions into federal and state prisons for drug offenses—representing one-third of total admissions in recent years, Jonathan Rothwell, a Metropolitan Policy Program fellow with the think tank, writes in a report entitled “Drug offenders in American prisons: The critical distinction between stock and flow.” “It is clear that the effect of the failed war on […]

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Glen Martin

When Prisoners Go Home, Punishment Isn’t Over

Last month marked the release of more than 6,000 people from federal prison as a result of the Sentencing Commission's 2014 Reduction of Drug Sentences Act. Thanks to this legislation, tens of thousands more people who are incarcerated could benefit from reductions in their terms over the next few years, and new drug-related sentences will be less than in recent decades. And it came not a moment too soon: we are currently saddled with an outdated, unfair, and bloated criminal […]

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'Fairy Tales' & Drugs in America's Courtrooms

The arrest and conviction of Dennis Hardee, of Philadelphia, was nothing unusual in the annals of America's Drug War. In 2013, he was convicted of taking part in a conspiracy to rob a cocaine stash house and then sell the proceeds. As it happened, there was also nothing unusual in the fact that both the stash house and the drugs were invented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—a common tactic aimed at going after violent predators […]

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'Outrageous Government Conduct'

The drugs were not real. The sentence was. Emanuel Gerardo Cota-Ruiz, a 36-year-old Mexican immigrant living in Arizona, was sentenced in 2013 to ten years in prison for conspiring to rob a cocaine stash house. Cota-Ruiz had no previous criminal history. He installed drywall. But, as his lawyer explained in court, he was unemployed and desperately searching for money to buy food, clothes and school supplies for his children when he was introduced to someone who described himself as a […]

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Fed Drug Offenders ‘Average 11 Years in Prison Under Mandatory Minimums’

More than three quarters of individuals serving drug offenses in federal prisons were convicted of an offense that carries a mandatory minimum penalty, and in 59 percent of those cases the average expected time served was 11 years, according to a data brief released Thursday by the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Correction and the Urban Institute. That was almost twice the penalty given drug offenders who were not convicted under the mandatory-minimum rules. “Long federal drug sentences are […]

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Prosecutors Say Sentencing Bill Could Reduce Their Leverage In Drug Cases

The Washington Post dissects a federal drug case in Oregon to show how heavily prosecutors rely on mandatory minimum sentences to take down drug networks. This leverage could be diminished by Congress because of concerns that it has been used too liberally to lock up low-level nonviolent offenders who face punishments that are much more severe than their crimes. Defense attorneys and others pushing to reduce mandatory sentences say that the threat of decades in prison leaves defendants without a […]