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Doing away with mandatory minimum sentences in Texas

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Houston residents are aware that there are often good reasons why criminal laws are enacted. Rising crime rates, efforts to deter future crime and a change in social behavior often require new or altered criminal laws. However, just as likely is the need to eliminate a law as a result of changes in the world.

For example, from the early 1970s to 1990s, quick rises in crime arguably warranted the need for mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimum sentences require the legal system to implement a minimum jail sentence for a particular crime conviction, regardless of the particular facts of the case or the individual's history.

Texas is one state where such mandatory minimum sentences are enacted. Such minimums have resulted in prison overcrowding and high amounts of public safety funds pumped into the criminal justice system in the state. While it follows to require murderers spend a certain amount of time in jail, the same concept does not necessarily work for lesser crimes, such as minor drug charges.

Such minor offenses accounted for more than half the population of people imprisoned in Texas federal prison. Texas is also one state that has worked to change such a problem, implementing treatment programs and other rehabilitation efforts instead. Such efforts have already reduced the incarceration rate in the state. Not only that, but the crime rate in the state continues to decline today.

Now the attorney general proposes to follow suit in the federal system for certain persons eligible for the lessor sentences. Those who have no history of violence, no weapons charges and no sales to kids might be eligible. In order to gauge their eligibility, Houston residents facing drug charges may want to consider consulting an experienced attorney.

Source: USA Today, "Rethink mandatory minimums for drug crimes: Our view," Aug. 14, 2013.

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