Tuesday, December 24, 2013

speak up; speak out

My Christmas gift to you: a call for common sense. 

In 2006, Congressman Robert Scott of Virginia begged Congress to think carefully before the vote on the Adam Walsh Act.
[T]he crimes committed against the children named in the bill, those not named, and the suffering of their families is a tragedy for all of us, yet this does not release us from the responsibility to legislate on a sound and reasoned basis. I believe the situation is serious and grave enough to warrant a bill that is based on approaches that have been proven to reduce this scourge in our society, not on sound bites that will merely pander to our emotions.
You already know that pandering to our emotions carried the vote. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to hear his words even years later.
Now, with no more basis than we had before, just the name of the crime and the continuing political appeal of appearing tough on sex offenders, we are again greatly increasing penalties with more death penalties and increased mandatory minimums, including more mandatory minimums for teenagers having consensual sex. ...
 Rather than taking such cases [teenagers having consensual sex] out of the bill, we are told that we should simply trust the prosecutor.
He mocks the idea that mandatory minimums are a good idea because mandatory minimums require blindly trusting the prosecutor.
Don't trust the Sentencing Commission's discretion to set guidelines designed to reflect what sentence should be based on the facts and circumstances of the case or the background and role of the offender, rather than simply the name of the case, the name of the provision. And don't trust judges to look at the facts and circumstances of the case, the offender's role and background and guidelines to arrive at an appropriate sentence after hearing all of the evidence at trial. Take the discretion away from these officials and trust prosecutors to decide when to ignore law requiring a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. And trust there are no prosecutors who can be affected by issues such as local political influences.
He points out the obvious:
The problem with mandatory minimum sentences is that they defy common sense. If you deserve the mandatory minimum, you can get it. If it violates common sense, you have to get it anyway. 
Congressman Scott made sense. Stopping to consider how the Adam Walsh Act, once enacted, would play out could have prevented a lot of heartache in the years since. Instead, Congress stuck its collective fingers in its collective ears and passed the Adam Walsh Act.

The good news is that Congressman Scott spoke out. One of these days, another Congressman or Senator will have the courage to speak out on behalf of common sense. Perhaps more than one and perhaps more than one at a time. 

Senators Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy have proposed legislation that would reduce the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing, an important step in the right direction.

In England, something even more spectacular happened. 
Helen Reece, a reader in law at the London School of Economics, called on Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to relax rules which automatically ban sex offenders from caring for children, saying that this could breach their human rights.
We must continue to speak out. You never know when something we say will prove to be the impetus for real change. 

Former offenders who speak up at city council meetings to protest residency restrictions, who speak to state legislators about sex offender laws, who explain to neighbors the effects of the sex offender registry--those former offenders set great examples of courage for the rest of us.

They are to be admired and emulated. Speak out and be heard. 

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