Dealing in Lives: Imposition of Federal Life Sentences for Drugs from 1990–2020

Ohio State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 687

Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, February 2022

35 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2022 Last revised: 3 Mar 2022

See all articles by Alex Fraga

Alex Fraga

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: February 24, 2022

Abstract

The “tough on crime” era of the 1980’s and 1990’s ushered in a growing reliance on prisons, the ratcheting up of sentence lengths, and a broader expansion of the criminal justice system. Life sentences, historically rarely imposed, became increasingly commonplace in the 1980s through the 2000s, contributing to the ballooning imprisoned population. While there are growing concerns about the increased use of life sentences in the United States, there has been limited empirical study of these sentences. This report seeks to fill this gap with a particular focus on the federal sentencing system and the imposition of life sentences for drug offenses. Specifically, the current report documents federal life sentences imposed for drug trafficking over the last three decades, taking a closer look at the defendant and case-specific characteristics, and providing a descriptive account of the factors that are associated with those sentenced to life in prison in federal courts.

Keywords: life sentences, LWOP, de facto life sentence, drugs, sentencing, racial disparities, federal sentencing, crack cocaine, powder cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, heroin

Suggested Citation

Fraga, Alex, Dealing in Lives: Imposition of Federal Life Sentences for Drugs from 1990–2020 (February 24, 2022). Ohio State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 687, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, February 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4043137 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4043137

Alex Fraga (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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