Should a mandatory minimum sentence lead to a life in prison?

Georgia and other states have begun to enact reasonable sentencing reforms for non-violent offenders. But the mentality of gaining political points by being tough on crime still exists in many quarters. The mandatory federal prison sentences enacted by those espousing that mentality are still imposed against many Americans.

In one recent example of the sometimes absurd outcomes from the harsh mandatory sentencing laws, a federal district court judge sentenced a man to life in prison plus five additional years. This goes beyond locking someone up and throwing away the key, even if he passes away in prison decades from now, he will still owe five years to the federal prison system. He was convicted of drug charges including conspiracy to distribute as well as possession of a firearm.

It is troubling that an individual arrested on drug related charges can receive a sentence so harsh that it will be impossible for him to fulfill it. The prosecutor in the case noted that a sentence that extended beyond the end of the man’s life was unusual, but mandated by prior felony drug convictions. The prosecutor went on to say that even if the mandatory life sentence had not been imposed he would have still been sentenced under the career criminal guidelines, meaning that he would have been subject to 30 years to life. The additional five years resulted from the possession of the firearm charge.

The need for reasonable and appropriate sentencing guidelines is highlighted by a sentence such as this one. It is difficult to argue that a sentence is reasonable when it is, in fact, physically impossible.

Source: Radio Iowa, “Waterloo man given life plus 5 years in prison for drug charges,” Dar Danielson, May 24, 2012