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Commission Asks For Shorter Drug Trafficking Sentences

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The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which advises federal judges, is recommending shorter prison sentences for most federal drug trafficking offenders, according to Reuters. Up to 70 percent of these offenders would receive shorter prison sentences if the commission’s recommendations are not opposed by Congress.

“This modest reduction in drug penalties is an important step toward reducing the problem of prison overcrowding at the federal level in a proportionate and fair manner,” Commission Chair Judge Patti B. Saris said in a news release. “Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991.”

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified in favor of changing federal guidelines to reduce the average sentence for drug dealers. He told the Sentencing Commission the Obama Administration supports changing guidelines to reduce the average drug sentence by about one year, from 62 months to 51 months. The proposed changes would reduce the federal prison population by about 6,550 inmates over the next five years, the article notes. Currently, half of the 215,000 inmates in the federal prison system are serving time for drug crimes.

The new rules will go into effect on November 1, unless Congress votes to stop the sentencing guidelines, the article notes. Drug traffickers with the greatest quantities of drugs would not receive reduced sentences.

Reducing sentences could result in less leverage for prosecutors, warned Scott Burns, Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association. He said district attorneys often use the threat of long sentences to convince drug offenders who have witnessed larger crimes to cooperate. “They can use the leverage of the threat of harsher punishment in order to solve murder cases and prosecute drug kingpins,” he said.

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