Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Conspiracy law
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What about the children?

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Human Rights law



Human Rights and the Drug War:
Atrocities of the Drug War

a - troc' - i - ty (ä-tros'-i-ti) n.
[from L. atrox, atrocis, cruel]

1. enormous wickedness, extreme cruelty.
2. a specific act of brutality or cruelty.


Sentences for drug offenses are disproportionate to those for violent and property crimes.

 Thought Crimes: Conspiracy Law

You never have to touch any drugs or money to be prosecuted in the Drug War. It's what you know; it's who you know, and it's what you don't know. That's the idea behind conspiracy laws. In 1988, the Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act added a significant dimension by including conspiracy convictions in the mandatory sentencing scheme.

People with no active participation in a drug offense are penalized for "aiding and abetting" simply for knowing about a situation and not reporting it to the police. Sometimes even for not knowing about a plan or situation prosecutors say they should have known about, and some even for trying to talk someone else out of committing a drug crime! Wives and girlfriends of offenders have suffered the brunt of this law.

With that logic, no one is safe -- except, of course, government agents and spies, who are paid to go out into society and manufacture, buy, sell, and use drugs, arrange deals, etc., to entrap and betray others.

In criminal cases such as murder, proof is required that an "act to effect the object of the conspiracy" has occurred. However, in 1994, Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that just talking about breaking a drug law is enough. Rather than requiring drug laws to be Constitutional or even consistent with other criminal codes, the Court ruled that "Congress appears to have made the choice quite deliberately" and cited as precedent an English case from 1705, which held that "the very assembling together was an overt act." These are exactly the kind of Orwellian laws that the Bill of Rights was written in 1781 to prevent.

What Are Mandatory Minimum Sentences (MMS)?

Federal mandatory minimum sentences (MMS) are determined solely by the weight of the drugs, or the presence of a firearm during a felony offense. The prisoner must serve at least 85% of this sentence, and there is no parole available. The only way to get a sentence reduction is through acting as an informant against others, including one's confidants, friends and family.

The sentences are mandatory in that judges must impose them, regardless of the defendant's role in the offense, his culpability, likelihood of rehabilitation, or any other mitigating factors.

Many states have adopted similar mandatory minimum sentences, and the international community is also now lowering its standards of excessive cruelty to that of the US.

If you would like to do something about this injustice, your help is needed. An organization dedicated to reform of these penalties is Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

How Did We Get Into This MMS?

This is America's second experiment in 50 years with mandatory minimum sentences for drug law violators.

Unfortunately, that was not the last we heard of MMS. In the 1980s the drug issue became a media epidemic. In the election year of 1986, crack was in the headlines of all American papers, and a top rated TV show about chasing drug traffickers, Miami Vice. The cocaine-related deaths of athletes Len Bias and Don Rogers within one week was the final impetus to set Congress into motion.

These are roughly the same MMS that we have today. In an eerie parallel to the late 1960s, the Sentencing Commission found in 1991 that the judiciary has been weakened by MMS and that prison overcrowding is rising. But Congress seems as unable to learn from its own mistakes as it is to learn from history.


Federal Mandatory Minimums (MMS)
for First-Time Drug Offenders


Type of Substance





Crack Cocaine

Powder Cocaine



5 Years

No parole

1 gram

100 plants or

100 kilos

5 grams

500 grams

100 grams

5 grams

10 Years

No parole

10 grams

1000 plants or

1000 kilos

50 grams

5 kilos


50 grams

Other Mandatory Minimum Sentences


Possession of a gun

Armed Career Criminal Act

Continuing Criminal Enterprise

Length of Sentence

5 years (added to drug sentence)
during a drug offense

15 years (Felon in possession of a gun)

20 years

MMS Are Costly Socially

The less calculable costs of the Drug War are in human damage caused to those imprisoned for unduly long periods of time, and to their families. Women and children truly bear the brunt of the Drug War. Women are the "hidden body count" and children are the "unseen victims." Children of prisoners lose one or both of their parents, forcing them to fend for themselves, to be taken in by relatives, or to live in foster homes. Brothers and sisters are often separated from each other in the breakup of their families.

Asset forfeitures seize family homes, cars, and savings, leaving many families homeless with no transportation and no money.

Too often, young children watch in terror as DEA agents break down the front door of their family home, throw their parents to the floor and aim guns at their heads, shouting curses at them. The children themselves are frequently kept at gun point for hours.

These kinds of incarcerations may be sowing the seeds for a new generation of inmates. Studies show that, relative to the general population, inmates are more than twice as likely to have grown up in a single parent family, and that half the juveniles in state and local jails have an immediate family member who is a felon.

With so much talk in Congress about "Family Values," one might expect to see some concern about the destruction of the family unit which is caused by the Drug War . not its mindless escalation.

MMS Are Costly Financially

If you would like to do something about this waste of money, your help is needed. An organization dedicated to reform of these penalties is Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Mandatory Minimums Are Arbitrary

Possession of 4.99 grams of crack is punishable with no more than one year in prison; possession of 5.01 grams of crack is subject to a mandatory minimum of five years. These "sentencing cliffs", as they are known, create absurd disparities in sentencing, yet there is no way for judges to circumvent them.

Furthermore, because of the way the law is written, a drug is defined as any mixture which contains a drug, which can result in even more absurd sentencing. For instance, mandatory minimums for LSD are calculated using the weight of the carrier medium, such as blotter paper. Hence, the accused may face more time in prison for the paper than for the actual drug.

Mandatory Minimums Are Unjust

Mandatory minimum sentences undermine the basic tradition of justice that Americans have enjoyed for 200 years - that the punishment fit the crime.

Judges are only allowed to consider the weight of the drug in sentencing. Judges are not allowed to consider any of the following factors:

By preventing judges from considering these factors MMS straightjackets the judge, forcing him or her to tear the "just" out of "criminal justice".

Mandatory Minimums Are
Racially Discriminatory and Excessive

Mandatory minimum sentences are discriminatory in application. They create sentencing disparities based on race. Studies show that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to receive MMS more often than whites charged for the same crime.

MMS are structurally discriminatory

It takes 100 times more cocaine in powder form than cocaine in crack form to receive a MMS, despite the fact that the two drugs are almost identical, both in terms of chemistry and physiological effects. As it happens, crack is predominantly used by blacks, while powder is more often used by whites. In several cases, DEA agents have actually exploited this distinction and forced dealers to cook powder cocaine into crack in order to ensure a lengthy MMS.

MMS Are Counterproductive

The intended goal of mandatory minimum sentences was to punish those who were most responsible for the drug trade, the "kingpins". The only way to avoid a mandatory minimum is to provide substantial assistance to the prosecutor in exchange for a reduction in sentence. Unlike the organizer, the minor player seldom has valuable information to trade for a lower sentence.

This is one of the reasons why Chief Justice William Rehnquist described MMS as a good example of the "law of unintended consequences".

According to findings by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, low level participants receive MMS more often than top-level importers.

Call your elected federal officials and demand that Mandatory Minimum Sentences be ended.


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