Mandatory Madness


?Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has introduced a bill he calls Defending America?s Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2004. Yes, absurdly contrived acronyms apparently were not enough; stupid pieces of legislation now must have subtitles (as well as the obligatory reference to juveniles).

Among other things, DAMV:SADTCPA would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years on anyone over 21 who sold any amount of a controlled substance to someone under 18. A second offense of this sort would trigger a mandatory life sentence.

It's not that there's no real crime here. Selling certain drugs to minors ought to be prohibited even when those substances are legal for adults. But try to imagine a 10-year sentence for a 22-year-old who purchased a six-pack on behalf of a 17-year-old, or a life sentence if he did so twice, and you'll get a sense of how ridiculously disproportionate these penalties are.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums notes that Sensenbrenner's bill also would require a five-year sentence for selling any amount of any illegal drug "within 1,000 feet of a school, college, public library, drug treatment facility (or any place where drug treatment, including classes, [is] held), or private or public day care facilities–in short, almost anywhere in cities across the U.S. " And the bill would roll back reforms that allow some low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to escape harsh mandatory sentences.

It's a pity Sensenbrenner can't be counted among America's Most Vulnerable.