by Nicole Flatow
When it comes to mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, judges’ hands are tied. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have discretion to implement the law, and a New York federal judge is calling on the Department of Justice to start using that discretion to curb the mass overuse of minimum sentences.
“This case illustrates how mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases distort the sentencing process and mandate unjust sentences,” writes U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in a recent opinion accompanying the sentencing of low-level offender Jamel Dossie, whom Gleeson had no choice but to sentence to five years in prison.
As The New York Times’ Adam Liptak points out in a column highlighting the opinion, Gleeson is no softy on crime. In fact, he led the team of prosecutors that sentenced John J. Gotti to life in prison.
But mandatory minimums, Gleeson writes in the opinion, do not just capture the managers and strategists that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 intended to punish. The ADAA, enacted after the overdose of college basketball star Len Bias, now ensnares some 74 percent of crack defendants, including many “low-level, substance abusing defendants” like Jamel Dossie, whose role in several drug deals was simply to ferry money between the buyer and the dealer.