Jacob Sullum in Forbes on the Need To End Mandatory Minimum Sentences


Jail cell
Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Writing at Forbes, Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum takes a keen look at the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences, and at positive signs that lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), may be ready for reform.

Toward the end of a hearing at which the Senate Judiciary Committee heard about the jaw-dropping injustices caused by mandatory minimum sentences, John Cornyn sounded a note of caution. "We have to be careful not to legislate by anecdote," said the Republican senator from Texas.

Why start now? Congress spends much of its time legislating by anecdote, whether it's a story about a teenager who killed himself after consuming ersatz marijuana, a college student driven to bank robbery by online poker, or a mass murderer who supposedly used a "military-style assault rifle." Here is one issue where anecdotes are perfectly appropriate, since it is impossible to assess the merits of a sentencing system without examining actual cases. If the law allows, let alone requires, grossly disprortionate penalties, it's a problem that needs to be corrected.

Read the full column here.

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  1. “We have to be careful not to legislate by anecdote,” said the Republican senator from Texas.

    Yes, Congress must remain as insulated as possible from the effects of the laws they pass.

    1. The naming of laws and procedures (“Amber Alert”, “Jessica’s Law”, “TIMMEH’S Statute – TIMMEH!”) after anecdotes demonstrates how state and national lawmakers are careful not to let hard cases become bad laws.

      For teh chilrunz…


    We’ll pile the dead bodies resulting from your cavalier attitude at your doorstep.


  3. I don’t disagree with this piece, but it’s important to know why mandatory minimums were created in the first place. In the ’70s crime was a big issue, and different judges often handed down wildly different sentences for equivalent cases. Of course this went too far, with the minimums set too high.

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