Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mandatory minimum sentencing at its worst

Here is an interesting example from Think Progress of how out-of-line some sentences can be with mandatory minimum drug laws.

Nicole Flatow wrote about John Horner.  He had no record of drug-dealing when he was sentenced to a 25-year mandatory minimum prison term for selling some of his own pain pills to an undercover informant.  Horner, a fast-food restaurant worker and a father, had been prescribed the pain medication because of an injury in which he lost an eye, he told the informant he could not afford both his rent and his prescription medication.

If, as expected, he serves all 25 years, Horner will be 72 when he is released, and he will have spent more time in prison than the former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling who was convicted in one of the largest corporate fraud schemes in modern history. Last week, the Department of Justice said it is considering a deal to shorten Skilling’s sentence, reported Flatow. But even if he serves every year, Skilling will still have fared better than Horner with a sentence of 24 years.

In 2006, when Skilling was first sentenced, his legal defense was deemed one of the most expensive in history at $65 million, and in the years since has taken his case to the Supreme Court and back on appeal after appeal. According to Flatow, the Justice Department is likely to shorten his sentence to put an end to the continued costly litigation by his arsenal of lawyers. Horner, on the other hand, had a court-appointed public defender and was persuaded to forgo trial entirely in favor of a plea deal.

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