In late ’90s, then-Sen. Roy Cooper sponsored and enacted law to double mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses
Cooper also sponsored and enacted law to drop by 80% the threshold of marijuana possession to trigger trafficking charges, mandatory minimums
Republican legislature acting to overturn Cooper’s disastrous policies
Raleigh, N.C. — As early as today, the North Carolina Senate expects to vote to send Gov. Roy Cooper the First Step Act, which provides flexibility to judges to impose sentences lower than the mandatory minimums dictated by law.
In the late 1990s, a North Carolina state senator who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee was on a mission to increase North Carolina’s sentencing requirements, particularly for drug offenses.
He cosponsored legislation, which became law, to slash by 80% the volume of marijuana in a person’s possession to trigger drug trafficking charges, which increased mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana.
After passing into law the reforms to dramatically extend minimum sentences for drug offenses, that senator — named Roy Cooper — became the North Carolina Attorney General for 16 years. Now, he’s Governor.
Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson), who sponsored the First Step Act to overturn the mandatory minimums imposed, in part, by Roy Cooper, said, “There should be no confusion on this point: My bill, the First Step Act, overturns the mandatory minimum sentences imposed by then-Sen. Roy Cooper. Those complaining today about over-incarceration can draw a straight line back to Roy Cooper for the past two decades of failed policies. I hope now-Gov. Cooper signs into law the Republican-led legislation to overturn the disastrous policies he implemented.”
The First Step Act has been championed at the federal level by President Donald Trump. It provides judges with flexibility to ignore mandatory minimum sentences, like the ones enacted by Roy Cooper in the 1990s. The rationale behind the First Step Act is that nonviolent offenders shouldn’t face harsher penalties than violent offenders, and that rehabilitation — especially for drug users — should be the top priority. Judges should have discretion to decide which consequences are most appropriate for a particular offender, but mandatory minimums tie judges’ hands.
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, “the [sentencing] gap between African American offenders and other groups began to widen” in the “period during which large groups of offenders became subject to mandatory minimum drug sentences.”
In a report, the Brennan Center for Justice wrote that mandatory minimums like those imposed by Roy Cooper “caused an imbalance in the courtroom that has helped drive mass incarceration.”
According to the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, mandatory minimums like those imposed by Roy Cooper caused the justice system to be “distorted by removing from judges the power to decide the proper sentence in their cases…The elimination of judicial discretion in sentencing has allowed prosecutors to acquire excessive power to impose sentences.”