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Monday, June 08, 2015

FEDERAL JUDGE TALKS ABOUT MINIMUM MANDATORY SENTENCES

If you read one article today, this week, or this month, read Against His Better Judgement a Washington Post article about US District Judge Mark Bennett of Iowa and his views about minimum mandatory sentencing.

For more than two decades as a federal judge, Bennett had often viewed his job as less about presiding than abiding by dozens of mandatory minimum sentences established by Congress in the late 1980s for federal offenses. Those mandatory penalties, many of which require at least a decade in prison for drug offenses, took discretion away from judges and fueled an unprecedented rise in prison populations, from 24,000 federal inmates in 1980 to more than 208,000 last year. Half of those inmates are nonviolent drug offenders

Iowa’s busiest federal court, the judge who has handed down so many of those sentences has concluded something else about the legacy of his work. “Unjust and ineffective,” he wrote in one sentencing opinion. “Gut-wrenching,” he wrote in another. “Prisons filled, families divided, communities devastated,” he wrote in a third.

Bennett tried to forget the details of each case as soon as he issued a sentence. “You either drain the bathtub, or the guilt and sadness just overwhelms you,” he said once, in his chambers, but what he couldn’t forget was the total, more than 1,100 nonviolent offenders and counting to whom he had given mandatory minimum sentences he often considered unjust. That meant more than $200 million in taxpayer money he thought had been misspent. It meant a generation of rural Iowa drug addicts he had institutionalized. So he had begun traveling to dozens of prisons across the country to visit people he had sentenced, answering their legal questions and accompanying them to drug treatment classes, because if he couldn’t always fulfill his intention of justice from the bench, then at least he could offer empathy. He could look at defendants during their sentencing hearings and give them the dignity of saying exactly what he thought

“Hell on earth,” he said, explaining what just five minutes as a visitor in a federal penitentiary could feel like, and he tried to recall those minutes each time he delivered a sentence. He often gave violent offenders more prison time than the government recommended. He had a reputation for harsh sentencing on white-collar crime. But much of his docket consisted of methamphetamine cases, 87 percent of which required a mandatory minimum as established in the late 1980s by lawmakers who had hoped to send a message about being tough on crime.

15 comments:

Scott Saul said...

At least the Feds have "safety valve " and the usual mitigating factors Florida's drug minimum mandatories are even more antiquated and illogically rigid.

Anonymous said...

- State Attorney's Office.

- Hello, may I please speak with ASA Jenny Jones in Judge Venzer's division?

[long pause]

- Who is this?

- My name is Rob Smith. I'm a defense attorney.

- Who?

- Rob. Smith. Defense attorney. For ASA Jenny Jones, please.

- What case is this in reference to?

[Grabbing file from briefcase on passenger seat]

- F15-12345

- Defendant Jon Snow?

- Yes.

Just a moment.

[Click, click. Four minutes of silence]

- State Attorney's Office?

- Hi, this is Rob Smith, may I please speak with ASA Jenny Jones?

- Rob who?

- Rob Smith. [sigh] A defense attorney.

- And what case are you calling about?

- F15-12345, Jon Snow.

- You're the attorney on the case?

- [Groan] Yes.

- And your name is Rob....

- Smith.

- Just a moment please.

[three minutes pass]

- Ms. Jones is not in the office today.

Anonymous said...

1:23 pm

Hey, this is Dave, I got the stuff

Who?

Dave Mann, I got the stuff

Dave's not here

No man, it's me ...I got the tuff

Anonymous said...

1:23 - Just leave a message. The ASA will call you right back.

Anonymous said...

I read this the other day. It's interesting, but doesn't do a good job distinguishing between the sentencing _guidelines_ and minimum mandatory sentences. Similarly, it is not clear to me that the profiled defendant was especially sympathetic. He was factually guilty and he sold over a long period of time.

I would be more in favor of abolishing or modifying min.mans. if there wasn't the real concern that judges, like the one here, would "let off" defendants like this with probation. I think that many neutral observers would agree that at least some prison time was appropriate here based on the nature of the conduct and the quantity of the drugs sold.
/soapbox

Anonymous said...

that's "judgment" and not "judgement"

Anonymous said...

that's "judgment" and not "judgement"

No Pague Ese Ticket said...

Do you think ticket maven Alex Hanna will get any more business from Rubio? He reposted the NYTimes article (which mentions him by name) about the Rubio family's traffic tickets on his LinkedIn page. He's donated lots to the Rubio campaign, but seizes the opportunity to self promote. What a D-bag.

Anonymous said...

3:36 p.m., the voicemail is full and cannot accept any more messages. Back to calling (305)547-0100 or sending an email that may be read a week from now.

Anonymous said...

Dave's not here man

Scott Saul said...

The Cheech & Cong references , in an inadvertant manner, triggers a fantastic irony for an article about drug minimum mandatory sentences. How fitting, where this component of the criminal justice has mutated into such a tragic joke, that the comedy team that made a living on drug culture humor accidentally, yet very appropriately , found it's way into the discussion. This is lightning in a bottle!

The Trialmaster said...

The most eloquent and outspoken judge on min-man sentences is John Gleeson of the EDNY. He is one of the finest Judges I have had the honor of appearing before on both civil and criminal cases. None of the Judges in this district even come close.

Anonymous said...

Minimum mandatories result in the Judge being little more than the cashier at Burger Fi. Listen to comments, read this script, NEXT IN LINE PLEASE! You might as well farm out all cases with a minman to Robo Court and put an automated judge on the bench.

Anonymous said...

Somebody forget to do shirt laundry?

Anonymous said...

No, the voicemail says, "Hi this is Assistant State Attorney Mike Brown [not Jenny Jones], please leeave a message." And THEN, the recording tells you the voicemail is full.

So you send an email. But jennyjones@miamisao.com bounces back because the real address is genniferjones@miamisao.com

In all seriousness, I know most ASAs are diligent and, upon learning you want to speak, will get back to you as soon as possible.

My real gripe is having to screen the call with your name and case number with BOTH the switchboard AND the division secretary. It's a small thing, but like Rump's post about upselling, its an unnecessary annoyance.