ETX officials on changes coming to mandatory minimum sentencing - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

ETX officials on changes coming to mandatory minimum sentencing


Mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes may be a thing of the past.

"Certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences," announced Attorney General Eric Holder.

It is an announcement that is receiving some praise by an East Texas defense attorney F. R. "Buck" Files, who said it is a step in the right direction.

"The biggest problem we have is that Congress doesn't trust federal judges to give appropriate sentences. If federal judges had the discretion to sentence, as judges do in the state court, we wouldn't have this problem today," Files said.

Holder said the minimum sentencing for certain drug offenders leads to overcrowded prisons and excessive incarceration, something Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said he has seen firsthand.

"I have also seen instances where the federal judge's hands were tied needlessly," Smith explained. "You can't have a cookie-cutter mentality where one size fits all." 

Holder said this will also address racial disparities.

"Let's be honest, some of the enforcement priorities we have set, have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color," he announced on Monday.

"The United States sentencing guidelines originally took 100 times more powder than crack cocaine to get to the same sentencing level. Obviously, crack cocaine was more prevalent in the black community and there has been a concern that the crack cocaine guidelines inappropriately caused more black defendants to be locked up. The ratio has now been cut to 18 to one instead of 100 to one. This is going to have some impact," Files said.

However, he does not think the criminal justice system treats certain races more harshly.

"If you look at the statistics, there are significantly more Caucasians defendants locked up in the federal system than there are African Americans or Hispanics," Files said.

The changes in sentencing are effective immediately.

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