Friday, September 28, 2012
judges should, you know, judge
In a state court case recently, a man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder. He will serve ten. What's the difference between that case and a child porn possession case in the federal court? In the federal court, the judge has no power to look at the case and decide what the sentence should be. In the state court, there were no mandatory minimum sentences to hamper the judge. He was able to look at the facts of the case and the defendant and come to a decision about a just sentence.
Will the judge get it wrong sometimes? Sure. Mandatory minimums make it absolutely certain, though, that sentences will be unjust. For example, in a child porn receipt case brought against a nineteen year old man who had naked pictures of his seventeen year old girlfriend, the mandatory minimum sentence requires an insane sentence for him. A judge would probably (who wouldn't?) look at the case and decide that the young man doesn't need prison for that offense.
Another example: a first-time offender. A state court judge may decide that probation would be sufficient. A federal judge has no way to do distinguish between a first-time offender and a career criminal.
Mandatory minimum sentencing has thrown the whole federal court out of balance. The prosecutor has the incentive to bring charges in every case he can. He has the power to convict without having to convince a jury that his evidence proves anything.
We need to change this.