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A BRIEF HISTORY OF FEDERAL MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING FOR FEDERAL DRUG OFFENSES

Tilem & Campbell is vigorously challenging the federal mandatory minimum crack cocaine sentencing scheme found in 21 USC 841. We are currently appealing two cases to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. While most believe mandatory minimums were a new concept resulting from the crack cocaine explosion in the early 1980s, the truth is, mandatory minimums for drug offenses have a 57 year history in the United States. As you will learn, from their inception, mandatory minimums have never achieved their desired result.

Draconian mandatory minimums for drug offenses were previously implemented by Congress in 1951 and 1956 and they failed miserably and were ultimately repealed. One thing that is apparent about our government officials including the elected Legislatures, Presidents as well as the appointed members that head our Administrative agencies and the Federal Judiciary is that they simply do not learn from history. It’s as if they don’t even know it.

The Boggs Act of 1951
What Congress was seemingly oblivious to when they slammed through The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (and its draconian mandatory minimums for relatively small amounts of crack cocaine) in the middle of the night, was that approximately 35 years earlier in 1951, Congress had passed the Boggs Act which also had established mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes.

Under the Boggs Act, simple possession of cocaine, heroin or cannabis carried a mandatory minimum 2 years with a maximum 5 years prison term. A second offense carried a mandatory minimum 5 years with a maximum of 10 years in prison. A third offense carried a mandatory minimum of 10 years with a maximum of 15 years in prison. Just as the 1986 ADAA was supported with flawed science, unfounded fears, and outright and erroneous concerns; so too was the Boggs Act and subsequent federal drug laws.


Narcotics Control Act of 1956
In 1955, a Senate subcommittee conducted a nationwide investigation into the trafficking and sale of illegal narcotics. This investigation led to the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 which increased sentences for drug traffickers to a five-year mandatory minimum for a first offense and a 10-year mandatory minimum for all subsequent violations. The Act also forbade judges from suspending sentences or imposing probation in cases where they felt a prison sentence was inappropriate.

Both the Boggs Act of 1951 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 failed miserably. The rationale for both bills and the concomitant mandatory minimum sentences had little or no impact on the spread of drugs throughout the country. To the contrary, the popularity of illegal drugs continued to grow. In fact, not only did both Acts fail to reduce the spread of drugs and their use, during the time period these Acts were in place, new hallucinogenic drugs were gaining popularity. Therefore, while the federal government thought they were going to crush illegal drug use with get tough mandatory minimums, the very society the government was targeting was actually increasing their drug use and even developing new drugs!

We still see this today. As the DEA and other agencies proudly boast about a “major” cocaine bust and display their “two ton seizure”, the truth is, while the government is spending billions to target cocaine, heroin and marijuana and passing draconian sentencing laws, those drugs continue to freely flow into the country and, in fact, new drugs have literally flooded our country (Ecstasy, GHB and others). So while the government is still trying to figure out how to stop cocaine, heroin and marijuana, society is already partying to a different song.

Just as Prohibition failed, so too did the Boggs Act of 1951 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. As we will see, three successive Presidents all opposed the draconian mandatory minimums with President Nixon finally bringing about their abolition.

For more information about New York sentencing issues, federal sentencing issues, narcotics crimes and other criminal defense issues, feel free to contact Tilem & Campbell toll-free at 1-888-ANY-CRIME or visit us at www.888AnyCrime.com.