(Washington Post Letter to the Editor) — As a former federal prosecutor who now trains criminal lawyers, I read with great interest the March 13 front-page article “Prosecutors fight plan to lower drug sentences.” At best, the objections by some federal prosecutors to sentencing reform ring hollow. At worst, they echo that most unfortunate plea of employee organizations: Keep our jobs easy.
Mandatory minimums make it easy to plead a case out, eliminating the effort and expense of trial. That efficiency is worthwhile if a problem is being solved, but there is no evidence that the mass incarcerations created by mandatory minimums solve any problem. If they were working, the supply of illegal narcotics would constrict and the price would go up, but some narcotics are cheaper now than 30 years ago.
The anti-reformers argue that mandatory minimums “provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command.” It is a worthwhile argument, if true, but U.S. Sentencing Commission data have shown that the overwhelming majority of federal cocaine convicts are low-level actors — street dealers, couriers and the like.
Mandatory minimums do create efficiency. But when that efficiency is primarily used to force pleas from low-level defendants without solving a problem, it is just bullying.
Mark Osler, Edina, Minn. Read the letter