There are two types of federal sentencing laws in the United States. These are mandatory sentencing laws and the sentencing guidelines. The law that is in question is the mandatory sentencing law, which was passed by the Congress in 1986. These laws make it mandatory for the judges to deliver fixed sentences to the convicts of drug abuse. There are some factors that determine these drug sentences. Judges take into account the type of drug, weight of the drug and the number of previous convictions before passing the sentences.
Under the existing law, Judges do not get the rights to consider other factors such as the offender's role and motivation. These are the major loopholes in the existing laws that are to be amended. There is an option of providing information to the prosecution about other offenders. Those who assist the prosecution by providing such information, usually get shorter sentences. Sometimes, it is seen that people provide false information in order to get relaxation in the sentences. By doing this, they often mislead the authorities and hamper the investigation.
There are some areas of concern within the drug law that needs to be addressed properly. “The main objective of the mandatory sentences was to nab the 'kingpins' in the drug distribution networks. However, if we look at the statistics, it is clear that only low-level offenders and drug users suffer the most. Only 11 percent of all the drug offenders are high-level drug dealers. The drug dealers are always in a better position to provide enough information to the prosecution to get minimum sentences. But the low-level offenders get the maximum sentences as they can not provide any important information about the drug networks.
They often end up serving longer sentences because of the loopholes in the drug law” (Macallair, 2002). “Both the US Sentencing Commission and the Department of Justice concluded that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws failed to deter crime. In most of the cases, black people have been subjected to sentences. It has worsened the racial and gender disparities and has become a matter of concern for the government and justice system” (Edwards, 1999). The mandatory minimum sentencing laws have armed the prosecutors with more powers. The decision making authority has been shifted from the judges to prosecutors, which is a disturbing trend.
These laws never achieved the target of punishing high-level offenders. In fact, mandatory sentences are more or less responsible for sending a large number of women and poor people to prison. To make them more effective and reduce the discrepancies, it is very necessary for an overhaul reform in the mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Three Strikes Law “After the murder of a 12-year old girl in 1993, a new law called the three strikes law was introduced in California. The murderer of the girl was a three time offender who was on parole. The law caught the attention of the whole nation” (Edwards, 1999).
Voters in California approved a mandating prison terms of 25-years-to-life for the offenders convicted for the third time. This law also doubled the minimum terms for the second time offenders. “Washington State adopted the three strikes law in 1993 and several other states followed suit. Finally, Congress passed the federal version of the law in 1994” (Edwards, 1999). There are some positive aspects of the three strike laws. These laws have been hailed by many people as tough measures to combat crimes. However, there are several negative aspects of the law, in which amendment is necessary.
It resulted in overcrowding of prisons. If a person is convicted of a third offense, he or she will be sentenced to 25 years imprisonment irrespective the nature of the crime. Even if the offenses are minor, convict will get the sentence in such cases. This is very disturbing and cannot be justified completely. Most of the convicts sent to jail under the three strikes laws are low-level offenders. The main intent of the law was to stop violent crimes. However, it has been noticed that criminal with a history of minor offenses get longer terms than the deadly criminals who commit violent crimes.
The popular opinion agrees that three strikes laws have not been effective in combating the crime so far. The most common charges found against third-strike criminals are drugs, theft or burglary that are minor offenses as compared to other violent crimes. People convicted with drug-related crimes are the worst affected by the three strikes law. “According to human rights reports, the US has jailed a large number of its citizens more than any other country in the world. Now the public mood is not against the three strikes law. It has been noticed from the independent surveys and reports” (Edwards, 1999).
It was argued that the three strikes law has succeeded in curbing the crime rate. “The sharp fall in crime rates in California was attributed to the strong implementation of the three strikes law. However, others like New York State also witnessed the same crime reduction in that period” (Edwards, 1999). Hence, it cannot be concluded that the three strikes law is fully responsible for the decline in crime rates. “The black and the Latino population of the US suffered the most under the three strikes law. Of the people serving 25 years life imprisonment under this law, 44% are black and 26% are Latino” (Joffe, & Yancy, 2004).
Rather than taking initiatives to reform the drug-addict people, the law put them behind the bars for 25 years, which is a cruel and unjust punishment. They got the punishment even if all the three offenses committed them were not serious in nature. A country that serves the world as the ‘champion of human rights’, cannot see its own people suffer under a draconian law for a long time. It is very much necessary to bring reform in this law to uphold the value of criminal justice system. Decriminalization of Drug Use “Between 1970 and 1980, the US drug policy showed considerable tolerance towards the drug users.
Eleven states in the US decriminalized marijuana. Drug addicts were sympathized as victims. Due to the permissive attitude by the government and society, drug users in the US increased significantly by the early 1980s” (DEA, 1994). As a result, crime and drug-related problems were on the rise. They had a negative impact on the society. It forced the government and law enforcement authorities to take adequate steps to prevent drug use. Drug user accountability had been applied in schools, colleges, institutes and offices. It led to a significant decline in the use of drugs.