Commission Recommends An End To Many Mandatory Minimums

Issue Is Expected To Soon Become An Important Political Topic In Massachusetts

A Massachusetts special commission has recommended an end to mandatory minimum sentences for all drug crimes, according to the Worcester Telegram. Although the commission's recommendations have no legal force, they are expected to influence the debate over sentencing guidelines. The topic of mandatory minimum sentences is likely to become a major legislative issue in the next couple years as lawmakers grapple with prison overpopulation and criminal justice reforms.

An End To Mandatory Minimums

The Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth's Criminal Justice System made a number of recommendations, the most significant of which was eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, including for trafficking and possession. The commission's recommendations would give judges greater power to determine what kind of punishment would be appropriate based on the unique aspects of each case. Somebody charged with drug possession, for example, may be better served by drug addiction treatment rather than by being sent to prison.

The commission also recommended increased parole eligibility for most crimes. Prisoners, except those convicted of murder or manslaughter, would be eligible for parole once they have served a minimum of two-thirds of the lower end of a sentence, based on the commission's recommendation.

Sentencing In The Spotlight

Massachusetts is hardly the first state to tackle the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. As NPR recently reported, a debate is currently going on throughout the country between judges, attorneys, activists, and lawmakers about mandatory minimum sentences, especially for nonviolent drug offenders.

While mandatory minimums were introduced in the 1980s as a way of tackling a crime epidemic, critics say they have long outlived their usefulness. Those critics note that mandatory minimums often do not fit the crime and end up disproportionately hurting impoverished and minority neighborhoods. They say that mandatory minimums have also been the primary cause of a bloated prison population that has become a drain on taxpayers. About 20 states have already eliminated some or all of their mandatory minimum sentences and a number of federal legislative proposals have been put forward to reduce mandatory minimums for federal drug crimes.

Drug Crimes

Unfortunately, the commission's recommendations are, for the time being, just that: recommendations. Mandatory minimum sentences will remain in force in Massachusetts until legislators decide to change them.

As such, anybody facing a drug crime charge needs to take such charges extremely seriously and reach out to a criminal defense attorney right away. With expert legal representation, people charged with a drug crime will have the vigorous and aggressive defense they need to fight against such charges and maintain their freedom.