Monday, April 18, 2011

When Does Congress Create Mandatory Minimums? Think Elections

That's what this new, helpful, and fascinating chart, compiled by FAMM, shows.

We looked at all the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws created between 1987 and 2010 and asked ourselves some simple questions:

  • When did Congress create this mandatory sentence?
  • When did Congress increase it?
  • When did Congress expand or rewrite the law so that more people were subjected to the mandatory sentence?
The answer is:  election years, election years, election years.  

The conclusions we drew from our data compilation:

(1)   Congress is significantly more likely to create or expand a mandatory minimum sentence in an election year than in a non-election year. Since 1987, there has been only one election year (2010) in which Congress did not create or expand any mandatory minimum sentences.

(2) Republican Congresses have created or expanded almost twice as many mandatory minimum sentences (131) as Democratic Congresses (68) since 1987.

(3) Including all presidents, more mandatory minimums have been created or expanded under Republican presidents (111) than Democratic ones (88) since 1987. However, President William J. Clinton presided over the creation or expansion of more mandatory minimums (87) than President George W. Bush (77).

(4) The creation and expansion of mandatory minimums corresponds to periods in which certain crimes received notable or extensive media attention and created fear or panic among Congress and the general public. For example, mandatory minimum drug sentences were created in the late 1980s and almost solely justified by now-debunked fears surrounding abuse of crack cocaine. Many mandatory minimums for child pornography and sex offenses were created in 2003 (when the abductions, rapes, and murders of several young female victims dominated headlines for months) and 2006 (the 25th anniversary of the abduction and death of Adam Walsh, who was the inspiration for the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, a law that was vigorously lobbied for by the victim’s father and host of the TV show America’s Most Wanted and by victims’ rights groups nationwide).

This little exercise confirmed most of our beliefs about mandatory minimums:  
  • Mandatory minimums are created out of fear and politics instead of reason or justice, 
  • They act as one-way ratchets, driving sentences ever and ever upwards, and 
  • Once created, it is virtually impossible to get rid of them.

2 Comments:

Anonymous said...

With this at hand (the statistics) and the fact that the Sentencing Commission will be voting on Sentencing Guidelines does anyone foresee the Mandatory Minimums changing? What more can we do to voice the unfairness in Mandatory Minimums? Is there any talk of anyone trying to pass a bill to have the Mandatory Minimums changed for fairness and equality?

Anonymous said...

In Federal court a person accused of drugs first has all of their assets seized by local state revenue taxing authorities, then they are represented by a court-appointed attorney whose first duty is: "...to the court" (a quote from my brother's attorney), followed by a jury trial in which the jury is not informed of the mandatory minimums (should they find the defendant guilty) and lastly, sentenced by the judge who has no control over the length of time. My brother is facing a 25 year mandatory minimum for drugs pulled from the local evidence locker in a "sting" operation. He was never involved in any drug production or distribution.