Law & the Courts

A Man Serving a Mandatory-Minimum Sentence for a Nonviolent Drug Offense Is Freed

(File photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
But he should never have been sentenced so harshly.

A Tennessee man has been freed after serving eleven years of a 17-year sentence for a first-time drug offense — but he should have never been sentenced to so many years in prison in the first place.

Calvin Bryant was sentenced to 17 years — 15 of them mandatory — because of Tennessee’s drug-free-school laws, according to an article in Reason. He was arrested back in 2008 for selling ecstasy and other pills out of his apartment in Nashville to a confidential informant. This crime normally would have resulted in a sentence of at least two and a half years, but because Bryant happened to live within 1,000 feet of an elementary school, his sentence was automatically ramped up — placing his crime in the same class as second-degree murder or rape.

Thankfully, Davidson County district attorney Glenn Funk was able to convince the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office to let Bryant plead guilty to a reduced charge and be released on time served. This is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think that any reasonable person could argue that the punishment that was originally doled out was anything but completely unwarranted given his crimes.

As Funk explained to Reason, “drug-free zones” actually make up a huge amount of Tennessee geographically:

In places like Nashville, almost the entire city is a drug-free zone. Every church has day care, and they are a part of drug-free zones. Also, public parks and seven or eight other places are included in this classification. And almost everybody who has driven a car has driven through a school zone. What we had essentially done, unwittingly, was increased drug penalties to equal murder penalties without having any real basis for protecting kids while they’re in school.

Thankfully, the district attorney’s office under Funk (who was elected in 2014) has a policy of not charging people with this enhancement unless minors were actually involved. This is a good thing. It’s obviously far worse to sell drugs to children than it is to sell drugs to consenting adults (which is presumably what these laws were intending to punish) but the idea of drug-free “zones” is, in general, ridiculous. You shouldn’t be punished because of laws that are aimed at stopping people from hurting children if you are not actually hurting any children. Essentially, punishing Bryant in this way amounted to punishing him for a crime he didn’t even really commit.

As a libertarian, I believe that all drugs should be legal for adults. After all, in a truly free country, we would all have the freedom to decide what we do and do not choose to put into our own bodies. What’s more, making drugs legal would eliminate a lot of the violence that communities now experience due to people buying and selling them in the black market. At the very least, however, draconian laws such as the ones that unfairly took so much of Bryant’s life away should be discarded nationwide — and stay discarded. If you’re not selling drugs to children, you should never have to worry about being punished as if you were selling drugs to children. It’s true: Selling ecstasy a few blocks away from some kids does nothing to harm them, because you actually cannot get high from being in the same neighborhood as a pill. It’s as simple as that.

Mandatory-minimum sentencing really has to go also. Every situation is different, and judges should be able to have the freedom to use their own discretion to treat each individual situation accordingly. There should never be an instance where a judge has no choice but to sentence someone to more time than that judge thinks is necessary because of these laws. We are talking about people’s lives here, after all. No one should have to be separated for more than a decade from his loved ones because of a single nonviolent mistake involving consenting adults only — and it’s far past time for our justice system to recognize that.

Most Popular


Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More