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Providing criminal defense services to
clients throughout the East Bay and
its surrounding areas.

Mandatory minimums: because we can make you

Mandatory minimums for drug crimes have received a significant amount of criticism. They have been part of the problem resulting in prison overcrowding in California and nationwide. They have also added to the cost of operating prisons by increasing the total numbers of inmates and the lengths of their sentences. Even judges dislike mandatory minimums, as they eliminate the discretion that is one of the core elements of being a judge.

A recent case from Montana describes some of the absurd results that derive from a system based on mandatory minimums. This case involved a medical marijuana grower who had been arrested and charged with drug crimes related to marijuana sold at his dispensary. He asked for a trial and wanted to challenge "federal interference with Montana's medical marijuana law."

He refused to plead guilty, so he was convicted of the federal drug trafficking charge. However, because shotguns were found on some of the property where the marijuana was sold, the charge was enhanced with firearms possession.

Because each count carried a mandatory minimum, he faced an 80-year sentence. Eventually, he was forced to plea to a five-year sentence, to avoid hardship for his family.

The problem with this type of a system is prosecutors use the "mind-bogglingly draconian" potential sentences to force defendants to plead guilty.

The stacking of consecutive sentences cobbled together from these mandatory minimums could have sent a non-violent man, who was complying with Montana state law in the operation of his marijuana dispensary to serve a life sentence in federal prison.

One must question how society benefits from such "efficiencies."

Source:, "Plead Guilty or Go to Prison for Life," Jacob Sullum, January 2, 2013

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