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37 States Have Ended Mandatory Terms Or Given Judges More Power

Gwen Levi,, 77, is headed for her job at a Baltimore library. Her life is a far cry from where she was just a few years ago, behind bars in federal prison, after being charged with selling heroin. "I knew that I had to change," Levi said. "What do you have to change? You have to do new things and try new things." In 2006, a federal judge found Levi guilty of dealing heroin. She was sentenced to 400 months in prison. "To me, at the age I was, it was life. It meant that I was supposed to be 93 when I got released," she recalled. That is how Levi's story became just one in the renewed national debate over mandatory minimum sentencing laws, reports Scripps News. "The individual is not looked at. It's just a blanket case," said Levi, who won an early release this year..

Mandatory minimum sentences are in place in nearly every state. Depending on the crime committed, if a person is found guilty there are minimum sentencing requirements that dictate to a judge how long they must sentence a person prison. Over the last few years, there's been a renewed push to reform some mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. Many advocates say the laws often don't take into account an individual's involvement in a particular crime or their criminal history — or lack thereof. "One size fits all rarely fits all. Every case is unique and every person is unique. Circumstances in one case may be different than another," said Molly Gill of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM.) She says mandatory minimum sentences do little to prevent crime. Over the last decade, 37 states have either repealed mandatory sentencing guidelines or have expanded judicial discretion. Proponents of mandatory minimum sentencing requirements say the guidelines often help ensure the rights of crime victims. "In some cases, it is simply not justice to let people out with a light sentence for a major crime, like murder or rape," said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation


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