U.S. Attorney Changes Minimum Prison Sentences - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

U.S. Attorney Changes Minimum Prison Sentences

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The U.S. Attorney General said some, non-violent drug offenders should not receive mandatory minimum prison sentences in federal court.

Attorney General Eric Holder is urging federal prosecutors to stop charging non-violent defendants with offenses carrying a minimum prison sentence.

U.S. Attorneys in Montana said prisons across the country are flooded with low-level drug offenders, costing taxpayers billions of dollars that should be spent elsewhere.

Federal officials said in Congress, there's already support for ending mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenders.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, Michael Cotter, said Holder's proposals won't change many federal court procedures in Montana.

Cotter said this is because his office has always been dedicated to prosecuting violent offenders who often use or possess weapons while trafficking drugs.

"A nonviolent offender would be someone, who perhaps might be a user, one who is nonviolent or who has not threatened anyone with violence," Cotter said.

Cotter said it makes sense for some individuals without a prior criminal history, or who use or threaten violence to receive a sentence other than a mandatory -- typically 5-year -- prison sentence.

He added, "It's important that we deter crime, but the system has to be established so that's there's frames in the system, so that mass incarceration is not the solution."

Cotter said in Montana, drug trafficking leaders who have ties to large-scale systems, like gangs or cartels, are the offenders better-suited to serve a minimum prison sentence -- or more.

Holder said prisons should be used to punish and rehabilitate, not warehouse and forget offenders.

"When individuals serve their time, that they can become productive members of society," Cotter said.

Under Holder's suggested changes, Cotter said federal prosecutors can still give a defendant the same drug charge -- those charges would simply not carry a minimum prison sentence.

"The federal prosecutors we have in the office will take the guidance to heart, and we'll follow the directions of the attorney general," Cotter said.

Just this past May, former University of Montana Grizzlies football player, Jason Washington, was sentenced to two years in federal prison in connection to his former medical marijuana business.

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