President commutes sentences of eight convicted by "unfair system"

Those who are convicted of drug crimes in the United States can face harsh sentences. Critics of the system abound, but arguably the most powerful critic is the president himself. President Barack Obama's most recent step towards expressing his displeasure with the system involved commuting the sentences of eight federal inmates.

The prisoners had already severed at least 15 years in prison on sentences that were set based on mandatory minimum guidelines for federal drug crimes. These guidelines require judges to issue sentences that can be extremely harsh, regardless of the facts of the case. According a recent report by The Hill, inmates included a single mother who was found guilty of a minor role in a drug deal. As a result, she was sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment.

Use of sentencing guidelines at federal and New Jersey state levels

Federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines remove the power of a judge to issue a sentence that is appropriate for each individual case. Instead, the judge must follow a guide listing specific sentences for specific offenses. Mandatory minimums are used with both the Controlled Substance and Controlled Substance Import and Export Acts for drug offenses. Drug crimes that generally trigger mandatory minimums include those involving heroin, both the powder and crack forms of cocaine, PCP, LSD, methamphetamine and marijuana in various amounts.

In addition to federal mandatory minimums, states can also have similar sentencing guidelines for state drug crimes. In New Jersey, mandatory minimums have been utilized since 1979. According to the State of New Jersey's Department of Corrections, when mandatory minimum sentences are used an individual cannot even be considered for parole until the minimum portion of the sentence is completed. The agency further reports that 22 percent of adult inmates in the state are serving a mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years or more.

Impact on those charged with drug crimes

As a result of the severity of penalties associated with drug crimes, it is important to take the charges seriously before they become convictions. Various defenses are available that could help reduce or even dismiss the charges. Defenses can include unlawful search and seizure. If proven, any evidence confiscated from the search may not be allowed in court.

Establishing this and other defenses can be difficult. When charged with these crimes, it is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced New Jersey drug charge attorney.