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Memorandum to the Legislative Committee of the National Capitol Area ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on the Proposed Mandatory Sentencing Initiative for the District of Columbia

NCJ Number
Date Published
70 pages
This study analyzes the legal and policy problems raised by a District of Columbia initiative that calls for mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug-related offenses and certain crimes committed while armed with a firearm.
The initiative provides that persons convicted of committing crimes of violence while armed with a firearm shall be sentenced to mandatory minimum terms of 5 years for first offenses and 10 years for second offenses. The initiative also provides that persons convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute certain controlled drugs shall be sentenced to mandatory minimum terms of from 1 to 4 years, depending on the classification of drug involved. Any person sentenced under these provisions shall not be paroled or have the sentence suspended until the mandatory minimum term has been served. The firearm provisions of the initiative have deterrence and incapacitation goals that are inconsistent with the Federal Youth Corrections Act, which allows judges discretion to impose a wide variety of sentences on offenders they classify as juveniles. Further, mandatory sentencing has no positive impact on the prosecution of defendants, because discretion is distributed from the sentencing judge to the prosecutor, who determines the charges. Neither does mandatory sentencing significantly deter persons from committing crimes nor does the incapacitation of offenders make society safer, since persons imprisoned for long terms tend to be more violent and predatory after release. Also, the initiative is overinclusive, inflexible, and unfair. The initiative provides a judge the discretion to waive the mandatory minimum sentence for an offender who committed a drug-related offense for the primary purpose of obtaining narcotics to satisfy an addiction. This provision is inequitable and inefficient. Statistical data are provided to show the probable impact of the initiative upon the relevant convictions obtained and sentences meted out in the District of Columbia. The text of the initiative and statutes amended by the initiative are appended.