Pubdate: Tue, 18 Jan 2005
Source: Journal Times, The (Racine, WI)
Copyright: 2005 The Journal Times
Bookmark: (Federal Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


My goodness, look at that, the Supreme Court put the judge back in 
judgment. It was about time.

Cookie-cutter sentencing may have been well-intentioned when it first slid 
through Congress with bipartisan support 21 years ago as an attempt to make 
sentencing more consistent from one part of the country to another.

But instead, as tough-on-crime proponents hither and yon ladled on 
enhancers and prosecutors added multiple charges to buoy the behind-bars 
totals, what the nation got, instead, was an out-of-whack assembly line 
system where judges with good judgment were sometimes reduced to apologies 
as they handed down sentences they knew were patently unfair.

Reason came back to the bench last week when the U.S. Supreme Court issued 
a two-part ruling that made the congressional sentencing guidelines 
advisory - not mandatory as they had been treated for two decades. In the 
first part, the high court held 5-4 that the sentencing system violated 
defendant's rights to trial by jury because it gave judges the power to 
increase sentences beyond the maximum that the jury's findings alone would 
have merited.

In the second part, the high-court judges imposed their remedy - they said 
the standards were therefore discretionary and not mandatory and they only 
had to withstand a test of reasonableness.

While that all seems like a reasonable thing, make no mistake about it, 
this case was about more than that, it was about power over punishment and 
which branch of government should wield it - Congress and the legislative 
branch or the judicial branch.

Even when the "guidelines" were considered mandatory, members of Congress, 
usually in the House, complained that judges were not following them 
adequately and there were proposals afoot to require sentencing reports 
that tallied such non-compliance.

We don't expect we have heard the last on this controversial topic, despite 
last week's ruling.

But rather than have Congress rush to impose a new system of mandatory 
sentencing on the bench, we would hope that they would simply monitor 
sentencing for consistency and reasonableness.

The final determination on sentencing, it would seem to us, is best made by 
those who have sat in the courtroom and heard the facts of the case and all 
its nuances - not by a congressman sitting on the banks of the Potomac who 
wants it reduced to a guilty or not guilty that determines a set number of 
years behind bars. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake