Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fairness of mandatory sentencing called into question - The Denver Post

Fairness of mandatory sentencing called into question - The Denver Post

Luisa Baylon waited in a truck with her 1-month-old son while agents say they saw her husband hand a kilo of cocaine over to a buyer in the parking lot of a McDonald's in Commerce City.

Now she could face a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 40 years in federal prison if she is convicted by a jury this week in Denver.

Cases such as Baylon's are at the heart of an ongoing debate over whether mandatory sentences are appropriate for certain defendants or whether alternative sentencing could play a role in rehabilitating some offenders.

Congress directed the U.S. Sentencing Commission — a panel that sets federal sentencing policy — to investigate and write a wide-ranging report on mandatory minimums that is due in October.

Advocates for defendants hope the directive from Congress indicates a trend in amending the sentencing guidelines to alleviate disparities.

The commission already voted in 2008 to amend crack-cocaine sentencing guidelines because they had a disparate impact on African-American defendants over other defendants convicted on powder-cocaine charges.

"Judges cannot dispense justice in every case when there is an automatic punishment that may or may not be appropriate for every person," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

The last time the commission conducted research on mandatory minimums was nearly 20 years ago, but Stewart said she hopes the panel will look at the data and research available to them and make adjustments to the guidelines.

"Every crime is different, every defendant is different, and when you just apply a cookie-cutter sentence to each crime, you are not going to be sentencing people to their appropriate sentence in every case," she said. "Some people are going to get too much time."

Colorado U.S. Attorney David Gaouette would not discuss Baylon's case because it was pending but agreed to speak generally about the prosecution of mandatory-minimum cases.

Gaouette said the vast majority of drug cases in the district involve mandatory-minimum sentencing. He said prosecutors are not targeting low- level drug users.

"We deal with the large- scale drug trafficking organizations or large-scale quantity drug transactions," he said.

Judge William K. Sessions, chairman of the commission, said he wants to hear a wide variety of testimony on the impact of mandatory minimums.

"Congress is asking us to give them advice on how they should work and how they relate to the sentencing structure and the sentencing policy in a broader sense, and they will make an assessment if our advice is to be followed or not," he said.

Any suggestion that the inquiry will lead to changes in drug policy is immature, he said.

"We are not advocating one way or another," Sessions said. "It's just a very general area of inquiry."

As for Baylon, she does not have a criminal history that makes her eligible for a "safety valve," allowing Judge John L. Kane to consider a sentence below the mandatory 5-year minimum if she is convicted.

Baylon, 20, who has pleaded not guilty, found herself facing significant time because of the quantity of the drugs.

Her 21-year-old husband, Armando Jaramillo Aguilar, was charged with distribution of a kilo of cocaine. A warrant is out for his arrest.

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