Poll finds most Americans support ending mandatory minimums

Renewed effort by state and federal officials to end many mandatory minimums

A recent poll has found that an overwhelming majority of Americans support ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes. According to the Huffington Post, over three quarters of all Americans say such mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated. The poll follows moves by state and federal officials to end many mandatory minimums, including in Florida where lawmakers earlier this year eased such sentences for illegal prescription drug possession.

Mandatory minimums unpopular

The poll, conducted by Reason-Rupe, found that 77 percent of Americans believe that mandatory minimum sentences should end for nonviolent offenders. Furthermore, 80 percent of Americans believe that judicial discretion should be increased so that judges can decide for themselves what sort of punishment is appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

Support for ending mandatory minimum sentences crosses all political stripes, with 81 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Republicans, and 75 percent of independents supporting ending mandatory minimums.

Sentencing being revised

That broad political support has encouraged federal and state authorities, including in Florida, to start easing some of the harshest mandatory minimum laws. This year the U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended cutting the sentences of nearly 50,000 federal nonviolent drug offenders. Officials say the move was necessary in order to reduce the prison population, which is currently eating up tax revenues.

Additionally, in Florida this summer lawmakers began easing the mandatory minimum sentences for people possessing certain painkillers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, without a prescription, according to the Palm Beach Sun-Sentinel. Previously, four to 14 grams would net offenders a mandatory three-year prison sentence, while 28 grams to 30 kilograms would result in a 25-year sentence. Under the new sentencing laws, the three-year mandatory sentence only applies to people possessing 14 to 28 grams, while the 25-year sentence will apply to those possessing between 200 grams to 30 kilograms. The revised rules, however, only apply to possession and not to trafficking.

Legal defense

While significant moves have been made to end mandatory minimum sentences in many cases, such moves should not be misconstrued as a sign that prosecutors no longer take drug offenses seriously. On the contrary, prosecutors still routinely pursue mandatory minimum sentences, especially against drug traffickers and other defendants who are deemed potentially violent offenders.

As a result, anybody facing a criminal drug charge needs to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney will be able to inform clients about what their legal rights are when dealing with a drug crime charge and what options they may have at their disposal.