NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT/AP) – The top prosecutor in New Hanover and Pender counties says a new plan from the US Attorney General is a welcome change to the justice system.
Federal prosecutors will no longer pursue charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence for anyone arrested on a low-level, non-violent drug crime. The offense cannot be connected to a larger drug operation or gang activity, according to US Attorney General Eric Holder.
"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long," said Holder. "And for no truly good law enforcement reason."
Prosecutors in New Hanover and Pender counties send more cases through the federal system than nearly every other district in the state, according to District Attorney Ben David. He said most of those cases would not be affected by this change because they involve suspects charged with serious crimes.
"We are not talking about putting non-violent people in prison for a long time," he said. "We shouldn't have mandatory minimums if it affects an injustice where people who have done nothing wrong are taking up valuable bed space away from child molesters and others."
Holder said prisons should be used to "punish, deter and rehabilitate" -- not to "convict, warehouse and forget." David said he agrees, adding that bed space is better used for serious offenders, like the recent cases of Titus Grady and Terrance Goodman.
A federal judge sentenced the two suspected gang members to 26 years and 10 years respectively for drug charges. Both sentences exceeded the mandatory minimums because of the criminal history of the two men, according to David.
"Mandatory minimums shouldn't be the issue," said David. "But how much more should they be in prison than what we would normally get them."
In remarks to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder also said he favors diverting people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs. And he wants to expand a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, nonviolent offenders.
Copyright 2013 WECT. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.
322 Shipyard Boulevard