Fixing the crack mandatory minimum

Given a fairly bad compromise in the Senate, why not go the administrative route instead?

It looks as if the best the Senate is going to be able to do on the 5-gram/5-year crack mandatory minimum sentence is make it 28 grams/5 years, which isn’t terrible but also isn’t great. Now maybe this gets worked out in conference, with the Senate acceeding to what’s likely to be a more generous House bill But if not, this is all the more reason to go for the straightforward administrative fix.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Fixing the crack mandatory minimum”

  1. This is only indirectly relevant to drug policy, but I want to ask Mark about something related to criminal justice and its application to African-Americans.

    Just this week in Denver, a black defendant was convicted of murdering a player for the Broncos in a shooting on New Years Day of 2007. His conviction would not have been possible without the testimony of gang members who were offered "get out of jail free" cards by federal prosecutors who remitted 180 years of prison time in exchange for their taking the stand against this defendant. The prison time was related to a federal drug sweep in the spring of 2007.

    So my issues are these:

    (1) Draconian drug sentences can be used to give prosecutors leverage against other defendants in other cases, producing convictions on what looks like tainted testimony. A potential witness who is facing life in prison has a powerful incentive to say whatever will reduce his sentence to three years in prison instead. The greater the sentencing disparities for various crimes, the greater the likelihood of testimony obtained under dubious circumstances.

    (2) I feel certain that the Innocence Project (and other organizations) have considerable data on how wrongful convictions were obtained. Out of 100 wrongful convictions, how many were obtained with testimony from tainted witnesses who were offered deals from prosecutors who were using their leverage to remit lengthy prison sentences in exchange for taking the stand against defendants they really wanted to convict? Is this percentage high in relation to all felony convictions for similar crimes?

    There has to be data on this somewhere. At your leisure, could you write a column about these issues?

  2. Thanks Peter! That site looks interesting. I will look for the data on the proportion of all felony convictions obtained using snitch testimony (if that proportion is also 15% the innocence data becomes much less meaningful). But if it is only, say, 5% of all convictions, then it begins to suggest that wrongfully convicted defendants are exposed to "quid pro quo" testimony more often than would be expected if such testimony were not associated with demonstrated innocence.

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