Nonviolent Drug Offender? Life In Prison Without Parole

We have previously talked about the shocking sentences that some nonviolent offenders receive and just last week wrote about the potential for lighter sentences. Although we have previously talked about these issues, we think that it is important to convey just how outrageous federal drug sentences can be. What is worse is that they are mandatory, so it does not matter how much a judge objects, he or she must send some offenders to prison for the rest of their lives for some first offenses.

Take, for example, the case of a 32-year-old woman who had no previous criminal charges. She was arrested as part of a federal drug sweep and charged on a conspiracy charge related to drug distribution. Even though the police didn’t find any drugs on the woman, a few of the 104 other people arrested in the sweep testified against her for lighter sentences. She was convicted even though the evidence given was clearly in exchange for reduced sentences and, thus, suspect. Her sentence? Life in prison without the possibility of parole.

This motther with an otherwise clean record will spend the rest of her life in prison. According to the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, she has no possibility of release and so she will die in prison.

Though this woman is from Texas, her story is far from unique. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there are approximately 3,200 people across the country who will spend the rest of their lives in prison for nonviolent crimes. It is highly likely that at least a few of those people are from New Jersey.

So, even though we have talked about the unfair and harsh sentencing policies associated with nonviolent federal crimes, we cannot stress enough just how ridiculous these sentences are.

Source: The New York Times, “Serving Life for This?” Nicholas D. Kristof, Nov. 13, 2013