Pubdate: Fri, 22 Aug 2003
Source: Daily Independent, The (KY)
Copyright: 2003 The Daily Independent, Inc.


Federally Mandated Minimum Sentences Limit Judges

Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked his prosecutors to report to him 
any federal judges who on their own - in other words, not as part of a plea 
bargain - impose sentences that are more lenient than the federal 
sentencing guidelines.

Not coincidentally a group of House Republicans allied with the very 
conservative and very activist majority leader, Tom DeLay, have formed the 
Working Group on Judicial Accountability to monitor and expose federal 
judges they suspect of being too lenient.

It would be naive to regard these actions as a simple gathering of facts. 
Dispensing with such niceties as the separation of powers, Ashcroft and his 
like-minded friends in the House would like to intimidate federal judges 
into imposing the sentences they think should be imposed.

The founders gave us an independent judiciary to withstand just this sort 
of attempted meddling by the executive and the legislative branches, but 
the House has indicated a disturbing willingness to go beyond browbeating.

The federal sentencing guidelines are intended to bring uniformity to the 
punishment of crimes by laying down a range of sentences. The judges might 
depart from the guidelines, but for many crimes, particularly drugs, they 
are limited by mandatory minimum sentences.

As Chief Justice William Rehnquist has pointed out, Congress rushes to 
enact mandatory minimums to show it is 'tough on crime' without regard for 
the judicial consequences let alone any standards of fairness in 
sentencing. Many believe the guidelines themselves are too harsh and 15 
years overdue for revision.

In politics, for every action there is always an opposite, if not always 
equal, reaction, and the American Bar Association will now look at whether 
mandatory minimum prison terms should be abolished altogether and whether 
federal sentencing guidelines should be relaxed.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee to the high court, told the 
ABA, "I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal 
mandatory minimum sentences. In too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences 
are unwise or unjust."
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