The outrage of mandatory minimums compounded by the lack of the clemency safety valve

24-Year-Old Gets 3 Life Terms in Prison for Witnessing a Drug Deal: The Ugly Truth of Mandatory Drug Sentencing

At the age of 24, Aaron was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a cocaine deal. That’s effectively three times the sentence imposed upon Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010. Aaron was a student and football player at Southern University in Baton Rouge. He’d never been arrested. In 1992, he made the mistake of being present for the sale of nine kilograms of cocaine and the conversion of one kilo of coke to crack. Aaron would have earned $1,500 for introducing the buyer and seller. He never actually touched the drugs.

It’s a good article, written by someone else who is serving an exceptionally long time in prison for a small drug crime.

It points out the added injustice when the judge and pretty much everyone involved in the case thinks that the prisoner should be released, but there’s no mechanism to do so when Presidents fear to use their clemency power.

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8 Responses to The outrage of mandatory minimums compounded by the lack of the clemency safety valve

  1. Improving public health, cutting off funding to cartels, and exercising sovereignty over our own bodies is all well and good, but this is what it’s really about:

    No human being should be locked in a cage and separated from loved ones for producing or possessing the wrong kind of drug. This is absolutely unacceptable.

  2. Peter says:

    This is nothing that I did not already know, yet I’m left speechless. The lunatics have truly taken over the asylum. When I was teaching high school we had an anti-bullying event called Zebra Day in which we showed videos to home-groups of lions attacking individual zebras, while the rest of the herd just carried on grazing. It was supposed to encourage the students to stand up for each other against bullies and not be zebras. The drug war, and the way most of us just ignore stories like Aaron’s because it doesn’t affect us directly seems to me to fit into that same zebra mentality. We need a lion to take a jaw breaking kick from the herd and I’m sure that day is coming in the shape of the ballot box.

  3. nick says:

    Some day in the future people will look back at cases like these involving drug charges and say “how could we be so stupid”. Sadly, that time is not now.

  4. darkcycle says:

    This guy played middleman for a pittance. He got that draconian sentence because he refused to turn informant.

  5. Servetus says:

    The delusional anticipation of the mandatory minimum appears to be that cases like Aaron’s will scare people away from drug deals by sacrificing a few unlucky individuals who meet the vague, entrapment criteria. The legal definition of conspiracy can reach out and touch anyone. The government knows this.

    Mandatory minimums are justifiable if and only if they do indeed reduce drug crime. There is no evidence any such drug crime reduction exists. The prohibitionists themselves admit they only stop 10-or-20 percent of the total drug traffic, which is easily made up by the traffickers for pennies on the dollar at the production level.

    Also, a 24-year old is not going to have the same kinds of judgment skills compared to someone who is older. The immortal young and the eternally naive are red meat for predatory parasitic prohibitionists.

    Someone paying a criminal fine, or serving a jail sentence, costs the economy more than just the tax money that feeds the judicial industrial complex. Fewer groceries and fewer cars get purchased. Educational pursuits get postponed, if not sabotaged. International travel is restricted, or simply made more expensive due to the mandatory profiling and security used for initiating new drug investigations. The list goes on. Someone has to pay for the cost of the dope-dog food, and that’s us.

    The drug war affects everyone’s lives in ways that may be too subtle to notice. Helping them notice will shorten the drug war.

  6. paul says:

    People shouldn’t be so afraid to use their power to do the right thing. Yeah, that can be a slippery slope, but in the end, it is what having power is all about.

    Clemency is not the only way to derail a situation like this. The prosecutor could have, of course, since everyone has been falling all over themselves to hand prosecutors more discretion. Failing that, the judge could have bucked tradition and delivered a softer sentence, mandatory minimums be damned, or otherwise monkey-wrenched the process.

    And most importantly, there was the jury. Regardless of what some judges say, or very serious lawyers with lots of gravitas, a jury’s power to acquit is absolute and not subject to review. If you are on a jury and you are asked to convict someone in this situation, consider the size of the sentence the accused will receive and consider voting not guilty.

    It may piss off some of your fellow jurors, it may make the judge crazy and the prosecutor huff and puff, but in the end it is YOUR power to make the decision in any way you like. Don’t pass the buck and hope the judge will deliver a light sentence (if he even can), and don’t just acquit on some of the charges but not all of them–vote to acquit on all charges.

    If you see something awful about to happen, some terrible injustice, it is YOUR responsibility and YOUR power to put a stop to it. Grit your teeth and screw up your courage and insist on your vote to acquit, and you will win the day in the end.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      There aren’t very many Federal jury trials for violations of the CSA. That’s because they’ve got the deck stacked in favor of conviction and you get a significantly longer sentence if you plead not guilty and take it to trial.

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