Mandatory sentencing in Colorado for drug crimes is meant to crack down on criminal behavior and keep dangerous, repeat offenders off of the streets. But what does the Colorado community do when mandatory sentencing infringes on the legal system’s ability to think critically and determine justice in independent cases?
Colorado is in the midst of contemplating this issue, and the contemplation includes a U.S. Sentencing Commission investigation into the mandatory sentencing process and its effects on offenders and their communities.
The Denver Post recently ran an article discussing the fairness of mandatory sentencing and referenced a recent case that exemplifies how the practice might not be ideal. Luisa Baylon, a 20-year-old wife and mother, is not a drug dealer. But she is married to one.
She waited in the car while her husband participated in a drug deal involving one kilo of cocaine. Baylon was arrested and charged with a drug crime that, based on Colorado’s mandatory sentencing laws, could put her in prison for 5 to 40 years.
Fortunately for Baylon, a Denver jury acquitted her of all charges. If that had not happened, the judge in her case would have had to sentence Baylon based on the mandatory sentencing rules.
Proponents of changing Colorado’s sentencing laws argue that the effectiveness of the legal system depends greatly on thoughtful, appropriate sentencing. Mandatory sentencing takes away the invaluable process of a judge determining what sentence would best rehabilitate individual offenders. Congress’ directive for the commission to create a thorough report about mandatory sentencing instills hope in many who see such an investigation as necessary and long overdue. (The last time research on sentencing took place was 20 years ago.)
A commission representative insists, however, that they are merely conducting research at this point, completely objective research with no agenda besides reporting their findings to Congress. It will then be in Congress’ hands to decide what to do with the information.