I would expect to agree with everything Otis said. No system is perfect. Plea bargains benefit both law enforcement and defendants. The federal "safety valve" gives judges some discretion. Guilty parties can reduce their sentences by cooperating with authorities. If all else fails, there is the presidential pardon.
Except: The minimum sentence for a nonviolent offense should not be life without parole, basically the same as the maximum sentence.
Federal prosecutors want the public to trust them even when they do nothing to curb their own excesses. No reasonable person would assert that there is a public interest in putting young, low-level, nonviolent offenders, with or without prior convictions, behind bars until they die.
If the Department of Justice had demonstrated any kind of commitment to fixing its excesses, the public could trust prosecutors. Instead, the prosecutorial-industrial complex has circled the wagons and actually defends these medieval punishments.
Florida's Stephanie George was one of the other seven recipients of a presidential commutation last month. Like Aaron, who told me he was guilty of "a big crime," George made some huge mistakes. In 1996, authorities searched her house and found $14,000 and 500 grams of her boyfriend's cocaine stash in her attic. Because George had two prior felonies -- for selling $40 and $120 worth of crack, which were counted as separate felonies -- this 26-year-old woman was sentenced to life without parole.
When The Washington Post praised Obama for showing mercy toward a mother serving "a life sentence for stashing her boyfriend's drugs," the NAAUSA took offense. President Robert Gay Guthrie chided the editorial board for not recognizing that George's "prior convictions caused her to be considered a 'career criminal' with a criminal history at the highest level under the federal sentencing guidelines. Federal law, as mandated by Congress, caused her drug distribution conviction, her third, to trigger a life sentence."
That's why Congress should change the law.