Tilem & Campbell is currently appealing the constitutionality of the federal crack cocaine statutory mandatory minimum sentences (21 USC 841). In our most recent appeal, we discussed, among other things, the history of mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses starting with the Boggs Act of 1951 and followed by the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. Both Acts imposed onerous mandatory minimum prison terms for relatively minor drug offenses. Both Acts also failed to stem the flow of drugs and their use. We discussed these prior Acts and their utter failures, as well as other empirical data, to support our argument that mandatory minimums for drug offenses have no rational basis.

In 1963, President Kennedy assembled the President’s Advisory Commission on Narcotics and Drug Abuse to address the country’s drug problem. Recall, at that time, drug offenders were facing the mandatory minimums found in Narcotics Control Act of 1956. The Commission studied drug use and the laws pertaining to those who abused drugs. The Commission concluded that rehabilitation rather than retributive punishment was essential to addressing the problem.

Regarding sentencing, the Commission opined that penalties should fit both the offender and the offense and be tailored to promote the offender’s rehabilitation. Draconian sentences, concluded the Commission, did not provide an effective deterrence. To the contrary, the Commission observed that the drug users were risking long prisons sentences to get their drugs. In other words, the lengthy mandatory minimums were having little or no affect on drug use.

President Kennedy’s disagreement with mandatory minimums was evidenced by his extensive use of his pardon power to free inmates languishing in prison. President Kennedy’s issuance of pardons and his commutation of lengthy drug sentences indicated to Congress his desire for a change in federal sentencing for drug offenders. This change, however, would not come about until 1970. As discussed in my next blog, after President’s Kennedy’s tragic assassination in the fall of 1963, President Lyndon Johnson also opposed mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
To avoid the potential for a Presidential pardon or commutation, some plea agreements (and I suspect more in the future) were also requiring that the defendant waive his right to seek a Presidential pardon or commutation. If you have a question about a plea agreement, sentencing issue, appeal or other criminal legal matter, contact Tilem & Campbell toll free at 1-888-ANY-CRIME or visit us on the web at

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