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There’s a type of “grandfathering” that is done in law and in business that works like this: a new policy is made, but it is only applied to everyone going forward. For those who have been with the company before that time, or who have, say, built their property before the new regulations came into being, they are “grandfathered” which means that the new policy excludes them.

The U.S. Supreme Court is looking for a different kind of grandfathering to take place. In this case, there are some very stringent and “hard on crime” laws passed and for which a good number of people were sentenced to a long time in prison. The goal was to deter people from drug trafficking and of course to deter the individuals who were locked up for, say, twenty years or so. But in recent years, some of the sentencing laws have become more lenient.

There were five cases in particular from our state that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. That Court has now kicked them back to Mississippi to ask the appeals court here to reconsider the sentencing for cocaine convictions. All of the cases came originally from the U.S. District Court in North Mississippi from the past two years or so. The Supreme Court said that people who had committed crack cocaine crimes before the lenient penalties took effect should still benefit from those new laws, rather than be stuck with their original sentences.

However, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined to uphold the original conviction and sentence in every one of the cases.

It’s hard to know without looking at the evidence why the court decided as it did. If nothing else, the judges in those vicinities probably want to maintain that they are tough on crime and perhaps they were not in favor of the more lenient laws when they were passed.

We have a difficult task, trying to figure out how to stop all the drug trafficking and crime around our state, and there’s no easy answer. It’s also difficult to determine whether locking up so many people is benefiting society or if there is a better way. As the War on Drugs is analyzed, movement towards treatment rather than incarceration could be a very good thing.


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