"...harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders have been consistently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1982, the Supreme Court upheld forty years of imprisonment for possession and an attempt to sell 9 ounces of marijuana. Several years later, in Harmelin v. Michigan, the Court upheld a sentence of life imprisonment for a defendant with no prior convictions who attempted to sell 672 grams (approximately 23 ounces) of crack cocaine. The Court found the sentences imposed in those cases 'reasonably proportionate' to the offenses committed--and not 'cruel and unusual' in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This ruling was remarkable given that, prior to the Drug Reform Act of 1986, the longest sentence Congress had ever imposed for possession of any drug in any amount was one year. A life sentence for a first-time drug offense is unheard of in the rest of the developed world. Even for high-end drug crimes, most countries impose sentences that are measured in months, rather than years. For example, a conviction for selling a kilogram of heroin yields a mandatory ten-year sentence in U.S. federal court, compared with six months in prison in England. Remarkably, in the United States, a life sentence is deemed perfectly appropriate for a first-time drug offender."
Sunday, December 30, 2012
--Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, pg. 90