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Mandatory minimums come under fire in federal weapons, drug case

Minimum sentencing requirements have long been a controversial topic in New York and nationwide. On one hand, they were established in the hopes that the harsh sentences would dissuade people from getting involved in criminal activity. On the other hand, people argue that the minimums are too rigid and are simply not appropriate in all situations.

This is the debate currently taking place in Utah, though people all over New York may be aware of the situation. At the center of the story is a young father who made a mistake and was put in prison. He was sentenced to 55 years, in accordance with mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, but many people agree that the sentence is overly harsh and now more than 100 people are petitioning President Barack Obama to commute his sentence.

The man was just 23 when he was arrested for selling marijuana nearly 10 years ago. According to reports, police found a number of guns in the man's home during a search resulting from the drug charges, although the man denied having any firearms and never had one or used one during a drug sale. But authorities charged him with possessing a firearm during a drug transaction, in addition to 19 other charges. In accordance with mandatory minimums, he was sentenced to 55 years in prison without the possibility of parole. This had been his first run-in with the law.

But even the judge in this case spoke out against the severity of this man's punishment, which he claims is "unjust, cruel and irrational." He is not alone in his disappointment in the justice system, either. The man has a number of supporters who argue that putting a man in jail for 55 years simply is not appropriate in this situation. It was his first offense, no weapons were actually used in the drug sale and the amount of marijuana he had sold totaled just $350. 

A petition was recently signed by 114 people who want the man released and sent to the White House for consideration. It will certainly be interesting to see what comes of their efforts and whether the man will be released as a result.

Source: Associated Press, "Obama asked to release Utah music producer," Nov. 15, 2013

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