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ACLU wants federal drug sentencing laws to change

The American Civil Liberties Union is taking issue with federal drug sentencing laws. Federal drug laws were suppose to punish the masterminds of drug trafficking rings but the ACLU says that these laws really end up punishing low-level offenders, most of whom are non-violent drug addicts.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created a five to 10 year mandatory sentence for individuals convicted of drug trafficking. The mandatory prison sentence was supposed to lock up the leaders of drug trafficking organizations but reports have shown an opposite effect.

After 25 years of mandatory drug sentencing requirements, reports have shown that a majority of people convicted of a federal drug crime were convicted of "drug trafficking" and received a mandatory five to 10 year prison sentence. Additional evidence supports the ACLU claim that federal drug sentencing laws are effective.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission complied data on crack and cocaine sentencing. They found that a majority of low-level cocaine and crack-trafficking defendants were described as "street level dealers," "couriers," and "lookout, enabler or users." These types of offenders were most likely to receive five to 10 year mandatory prison sentences.

The Sentencing Commission also found a large disparity in sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. Despite the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, the mandatory sentences are very different depending on the type of cocaine a defendant if convicted of possessing. Selling a small quantity of crack cocaine, 28 grams or less, has the same mandatory five year sentence that selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.

The ACLU is urging the government to review and reform their federal drug sentencing requirements. They say that long mandatory prison sentences are not necessary for a majority of low-level offenders who are most likely to end up being convicted of federal drug trafficking under current laws. The ACLU wants federal drug laws to be appropriate for the crime and say it is time to for the country's drug laws to actually apply towards the worst offenders.

Source: ACLU, "The Reality of Federal Drug Sentencing," Alex Stamm, Nov. 27, 2012

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