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May 9, 2005

The rhetoric supporting mandatory minimums in the gang bill, HR 1279

I noted in this post that FAMM is sounding the alarm about H.R. 1279, which FAMM calls "an extremely harsh and unnecessary gang bill that includes many new and increased federal mandatory minimum sentences."  Helpfully, today TalkLeft in this post and the PRACDL Blog in this post have provided a lot of additional information, criticisms and links concerning H.R. 1279, and I have now found that there is helpful information about the bill and its status available at this official link.  Also now available is a 291-page House report (House Report No. 109-74 dated May 5) on the bill, which is available here.

A helpful reporter helpfully pointed out an interesting passage concerning mandatory minimums and Booker starting at page 15 of the House report on H.R. 1279.  Here's a selection:

Finally, the bill includes a number of new mandatory minimum criminal penalties with respect to violent gang crimes and other violent offenses.  As explained here, mandatory minimum penalties are effective means for ensuring consistency in sentencing, and promote public safety by deterring violent criminals and incapacitating violent criminals who are likely to commit additional violent crimes.

The Supreme Court's recent Booker decision in has eviscerated long-standing and effective sentencing policies adopted by Congress as part of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.  The evidence is starting to come in, and the picture is not a good one.  Federal judges have begun to hand out sentences below the guideline recommended range, citing the discretion they now have under the Booker decision.  The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was designed to provide certainty and fairness in meeting the purposes of sentencing, avoiding unwarranted disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar criminal conduct.  Sentencing judges have started to deviate, and some have announced even prospectively that they intend to do so in more cases.  Given the elimination of an effective determinate sentencing guideline system, Congress will need to act quickly in certain areas by imposing mandatory-minimum sentences to protect the public, particularly when it comes to violent gang crimes....

Moreover, mandatory minimum penalties provide the tools for prosecutors to secure the cooperation of gang members to dismantle violent gang organizations and solve violent crimes where the witnesses may only be other gang members.  Without such a penalty, gang members will not cooperate with law enforcement; they will simply turn their back on cooperation, do the time, and gang violence will continue to expand and to threaten our communities.

Regular readers should find a lot of this language familiar.  This text and other materials in the House report come from a research paper (discussed in this post) that  was making the rounds in Washington last month.  That document, which was full of rhetoric concerning the value and need for mandatory minimum penalties, made over-statement an art-form and was quite one-sided on all the issues covered.  I think the same can be said about what I see so far in this House Report.

I doubt I will get a chance to read the bulk of this House report on the gang bill, but I highly encourage readers to spotlight other sections of the report that merit focused consideration.

May 9, 2005 at 05:12 PM | Permalink

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