Back to News & Commentary

Presidential Pardons Highlight the Need to Return Common Sense to Federal Sentencing

Jennifer Bellamy,
Senior Legislative Counsel
Share This Page
November 26, 2008

Mandatory minimum sentencing relies on an inflexible formula to determine the required minimum sentencing, regardless of the individual circumstances of the case. At a time when our prisons are practically bursting at the seams, mandatory sentencing laws continue to funnel more and more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders into prison.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports that, even though the majority of cocaine users are white, 87 percent of people prosecuted for cocaine offenses in 2000 were Latinos and African-Americans. Mandatory minimums force judges to give long prison sentences to nonviolent low-level offenders.

On November 24, the Associated Press reported that President George W. Bush granted pardons or reduced sentences to 14 individuals; four of whom were convicted of drug-related offenses with lengthy mandatory minimums. Although the ACLU commends this exercise of presidential power remedy to injustice, we urge President Bush to provide relief to the many other individuals serving excessive penalties for crack cocaine offenses. Additionally, the ACLU, along with our coalition partners urge the 111th Congress to pass legislation (S.1711) eliminating the current 100-to-1 disparity in the amount of powdered and crack cocaine that triggers mandatory minimum prison sentences.

As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said we should, “accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences. In too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unwise and unjust.”

Learn More About the Issues on This Page