UPDATE: If you read nothing else today, go to SFL blog and read the story on Dan Gelber as a big brother and the success of the young man he mentored.
Before we get down to business, the College Championship football game is tonight in Miami and we have two very interested spectators in our legal midsts: CJ Fred Moreno (Notre Dame) and Judge James Cohn (Alabama). The Herald portrays the rivalry here. Who knew Judge Zloch threw the rock for the Fighting Irish in the 60's? Our prediction below.
The Sunday NY Times had the story of the case of Conor McBride, who at age 19, shot and killed his girlfriend Ann Grosmaire. McBride was indicted for first degree murder in Tallahassee. But Grosmaire's parents decided to engage in a "restorative justice" process, dragging a reluctant assistant state attorney along with them, because they did not want to see McBride sentenced to life in prison.
The tragedy of minimum mandatory sentences is that there are hundreds of people serving lengthy mandatory sentences when there are otherwise alternative resolutions. Human nature and human interrelations, and thus human actions- have an infinite number of permutations. Who first thought that any one of those permutations could justly lend itself to a "one size fits all" mandatory sentence? Mandatory sentences, created by legislators- may of whom have never stepped inside a courtroom- and enforced solely by prosecutors-most of whom have not reached their third decade of life, have no place in a system that misleadingly calls itself a "justice system".
In Florida, only a prosecutor can waive a legislatively created minimum mandatory sentence. Thus we routinely have the scenario of a twenty- six or twenty-seven or twenty-eight year old prosecutor making decisions about the entire future of a defendant, while fifty or sixty or seventy year old judges- many appointed by the governor- sit powerless to act. When did we decide that unelected young people with almost no life experience are more trustworthy in making decisions about a person's future than a judge?
This is not about a defense attorney seeking a backdoor way to get leniency for a client This is about returning the justice system to the people who work in it and restoring the players to their traditional roles. When the legislature took sentencing away from judges, they altered a carefully crafted system that had proper checks and balances. Minimum mandatory sentences altered that balance and the result is thousands if not tens of thousands of lives lost to the maw of the american prison gulag.
Legislators make the laws. Prosecutors enforce them, defense attorneys defend their clients, and judges adjudicate the disputes, and where required, issue sentences. Unlike assistant state attorneys, Judges in the State of Florida are answerable to the electorate every six years. The public has little recourse against an overzealous prosecutor seeking lengthy sentences to advance a career.
Conor McBride's story is an unusual one, punctuated by parents of a dead child who sought to understand and forgive their daughter's killer. And yet the twenty year prison sentence McBride received amounts to likely a quarter of this young man's life. People who sneer at any sentence less than life in prison have never spent a day locked up, much less a decade or more.
An enlightened society recognizes that even people who commit horrible criminal acts may someday be worthy of redemption. Of course, who said the United States circa 2013 was enlightened?
Crime and Punishment. What a great topic for a novel. Somebody should write it.
Be back soon and then we'll see you in court any day now.
NCAA: We're rooting for Notre Dame, but it looks like Roll Tide.
And despite the Chief's protestations to the contrary to the Herald, something tells us that one of these two respected jurists will be reaching for the check at Joes when the two sit down for lunch to discuss the game in the not to distant future.
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