November 1, 2009
State judge calls for repeal of school-zone mandatory sentencesThis local articlefrom Pennsylvania, which is headlined "Berks judge: End mandatory sentences involving drug sales in school zones," reports on a state judge complaining about the consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing terms for drug sales in school zones. Here is how the article starts:
A Berks County judge called for immediate action from legislators to repeal a law allowing prosecutors to seek mandatory sentences for drug dealers selling within 1,000 feet of a school. "We cannot continue to fill up the prisons with nonviolent people who sell marijuana," Judge Linda K.M. Ludgate said. "We are in a state budget crisis. This law no longer makes sense."
Ludgate, head of criminal court, was on a Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing advisory committee that concluded the law must be repealed. The panel's report was presented to the House Judiciary Committee. "We cannot wait any longer for this law to be repealed," said Ludgate, also a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. "It's no longer practical. The legislators must decide whether they want to fill up prisons with murderers and rapists or people selling marijuana."
The numbers show Berks County prosecutors imposed mandatory sentences for 186 cases, or 63 percent, of the 294 mandatory-sentence cases in 2008. The law requires judges to impose mandatory sentences when requested by prosecutors. Prosecutors statewide obtained mandatory sentences in 314 drug-zone cases, or 18 percent of the 1,732 mandatory sentences handed down in 2008. The report concluded the 1997 drug-free school zone is clogging up prisons, not shielding children from drugs.
"There is no relationship between the school zone and selling drugs to kids," said Mark Bergstrom, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission. "If you are selling drugs to another person at 2 in the morning, and there are no kids out, you still face a mandatory sentence," he said. "This is not the intention of the law."
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