Non-violent drug crime gets first-time offender life sentence

Our immediately preceding blog post set forth some of the criticisms centrally relevant in what the ACLU refers to as the “absurd tragedy” inherent in many federal sentencing outcomes for low-level drug offenders following their convictions.

As is argued by that organization, the need for sentencing reform is great. Indeed, and based upon many draconian sentences handed down for relatively minor offenses, it is dire.

The growing controversy that has taken center stage in discussions focuses on the harsh sentences handed down for even first-time and non-violent drug offenders and the need for sentencing mitigation. Not everyone agrees that drug-related sentences are routinely over the top for drug defendants, but even defenders of stringent outcomes note that there are many cases where the punishment seems flatly far in excess of what is mandated for the crime.

A recent opinion letter in a Texas newspaper goes far toward bringing home the hard reality of sentencing for some inmates currently doing time on federal criminal charges of drug possession.

The letter is written by a prisoner in the United States Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas. The inmate is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a non-violent drug-related crime. He was a first-time offender.

Understandably, he rues his predicament, noting that his life sentence (he has already served 17 years in prison) contrasts in ludicrous fashion to the outcome of a defendant whose fate was recently broadcast thusly by a newspaper headline: “Man gets 40 years for gruesome murder.”

The dichotomy is painfully clear — a notably harsher term for a non-violent and first-time offense than for the violent taking of a life.

Contemplation on that disparity might reasonably result in a changed opinion for some people who favor extreme federal sentencing penalties.

Source: Wise County Messenger, “Federal prisoner laments drug sentencing,” Tommy Jackson, Dec. 29, 2012