Heritage Foundation: Get Rid of Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Non-Violent Crimes

Back when I wrote about prosecutors threatening torture to get a confession, I thought I was a bit “out there” in Conservative circles. My mistake. Yesterday the Heritage Foundation posted on “Time To Reconsider Mandatory Minimum Sentences.”

It seems this is both a conservative position and one that appeals to Democrats as well. At a time when people are claiming that Congress can’t get anything done due to partisanship it seems that there is a move afoot to deal with this sentencing problem—an extremely significant issue for Congress to address.

“This woman doesn’t belong in prison for 10 years for what I understand she did. That’s just crazy.” So said federal district Judge Richard A. Gadbois Jr. before sentencing Tonya Drake to a mandatory minimum of 10 years behind bars.

Tonya, a financially desperate single mother, mailed a package that, unbeknownst to her, contained 232 grams of crack cocaine. While Judge Gadbois thought the sentence unnecessarily harsh, federal law left him no choice: “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Today, an unlikely coalition of conservatives and liberals is seeking to scale back federal mandatory minimums. Senators Dick Durbin (D–IL) and Mike Lee (R–UT) have introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would revise federal mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. The Smarter Sentencing Act is narrowly tailored to address one of the most pressing problems with mandatory minimums —arbitrary, severe punishments for nonviolent offenses—while leaving for another day the question of whether mandatory minimums should apply to violent crimes.

Mike Lee is, of course, a faithful Tea Party Senator, one who has been opposed by the Establishment Republicans and their Big Money supporters. I think his work here with Durbin is a credit to the Tea Party.

And it isn’t only Mike Lee or the Heritage Foundation. Here is Rand Paul testifying on mandatory minimums.

I hope that the Tea Party gets remembered for many things by future historians. But this one is near the top of the list: I hope we are remembered as the movement that got rid of mandatory minimums.