Jacob Sullum on Prosecutors Who Love Mandatory Minimums


Georgetown University

In 1996, when he was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Eric Holder urged the D.C. Council to reinstate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, which it had abolished in 1994. Two decades later, as an attorney general who has repeatedly criticized "draconian" mandatory minimums and sought to limit their use, he faces resistance from the federal prosecutors he oversees.

Holder alluded to that resistance in a speech to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers last Thursday, saying "any suggestion that defendant cooperation is somehow dependent on mandatory minimums is plainly inconsistent with the facts and with history." More to the point, says Jacob Sullum, coercing "cooperation" cannot be the overriding goal of criminal penalties, which must be constrained by principles of fairness and proportionality.