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Why Mandatory Minimum Sentences Will Never Be Abolished

I don't mean to sound negative, but I don't think the fight to repeal mandatory minimum sentences is looking very good.

That's because in order to repeal mandatory minimum sentences, elected officials will have to adopt a platform that is unpopular. I'll tell you why.

Politicians like to appear tough on crime. That's the basis for our mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Legislators want to appear tough on crime because that's a position popular with the voters. Nobody likes crime. Nobody likes violence. Why not vote for people who are going to take action against those who commit crimes?

Mandatory sentencing permits lawmakers to act tough by taking discretion out of the hands of judges and placing it into the hands of the legislature.

Many legislators have no background or experience in criminal justice. They have never worked in the court system. They have never prosecuted or defended. Many of them have never been inside of a courtroom.

Many - if not all of those legislators up in Tallahassee - are disturbingly out of touch.

That is why they pass these mandatory minimum laws. Because they think only about their re-elections and not about the lives those draconian laws destroy.

25 mandatory years in prison for trafficking in oxycodone (OxyContin) over 28 grams. That's just one example of our cruel and inhumane mandatory sentencing scheme in Florida. And if you'll recall from previous posts, trafficking in Florida is not based on whether drugs were sold or transported. Trafficking is based entirely on the weight of the drug. That is why a drug addict with no prior criminal record can be sentenced to a quarter-century in prison.

But when politicians try to appeal to their voters, they sell the idea of being tough on drug trafficking by relying on the public's notion of drug trafficking as the organized sale of massive quantities of drugs. They convey images of violent drug gangs. What they fail to tell their voters is that mandatory minimum sentencing doesn't just apply to drug dealers with mile-long criminal records. It applies to your friends and family members who suffer from drug addictions. The violent felon selling 28 grams of oxycodone will serve the same sentence as the college-educated young man who got hooked on OxyContin after his last knee surgery.

No distinction between the two can be made because your Florida government has firmly established that no judge can exercise discretion in these matters. The law is the law. Only the prosecutor - oftentimes in their twenties and only a few years out of law school - has the statutory ability to waive a mandatory minimum sentence.

Folks, I cannot express my frustration enough. It kills me that our state is so backwards. Those idiots we elect to serve our interests are locking up good people.

Being tough on crime is okay. More police officers on the street. Harsher penalties for violent re-offenders. Those are fine. But when legislators blindly pass laws to please the masses, good people suffer.

Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.