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Federal Judge Criticizes Overuse of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Recently, in United States v Dossie, 11-CR-237 JG, 2012 WL 1086516 (E.D.N.Y. 2012), Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York criticized the government’s policy of routinely seeking application of mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment in crack cocaine cases where the defendant did not have a managerial or leadership role in the crime charged. Judge Gleeson, a former Assistant United States Attorney who successfully prosecuted John Gotti, called upon Attorney General Holder and federal prosecutors to invoke the mandatory minimum provisions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 only when the prosecutor intended to “prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was the kind of drug dealer for whom those penalties were enacted.”

Citing the United States Sentencing Commission’s 2011 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Judge Gleeson noted that while 74% of crack defendants faced a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years, only 5.4% were leaders or managers of a drug business. The defendant in this case was a young, drug-abusing, small-time, street-level drug dealer’s assistant, with a history of misdemeanor drug possession convictions.  He was charged with an offense carrying a five-year minimum mandatory sentence, not due to his role in the offense, but rather because it involved 3.1 ounces of crack cocaine. Had he the discretion to do so, Judge Gleeson would have considered imposing a lenient prison term or even allowing the defendant to enter the court’s Pretrial Opportunity Program, which was designed for nonviolent defendants with documented substance abuse problems. Instead, the judge concluded that the law required the imposition of a five-year prison sentence, which he stated was “not a just sentence.”

 

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