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January 19, 2006

Two potent commentaries on the state of federal sentencing

Though locked behind subscriptions, there are two recent must-read pieces about the state of federal sentencing which everyone should try to access:

  • To celebrate Booker's anniversary (background here and here), US District Judge Lynn Adelman and Jon Deitrich have a terrific piece in Legal Times entitled "Judgment on Booker?".  The piece argues that the system created by Booker "may be as close to ideal as we're likely to get," and closes with the astute suggestion that "when Congress evaluates the post-Booker system, its principle inquiry should not be how many sentences are within the guidelines and how many without, but rather whether judges are providing persuasive explanations for the sentences they impose."

  • To ensure nobody gets too giddy about federal sentencing realities, the New York Law Journal today has an article headlined "Small-Time Dealer Gets Mandatory Life Sentence," which reports on US District Judge David Hurd's complaints about having to impose a mandatory life sentence in one case.  Here is the article's opening paragraphs:

Forced to impose a sentence he deemed unjust, a Northern District judge took sharp aim last week at a federal statute that required him to impose a life-without-parole term on a 32-year-old "relatively small-time drug dealer" with an IQ of 72.

Judge David N. Hurd said child rapists and murderers will go free on parole while Justin D. Powell languishes in prison for life, largely because the defendant was convicted of drug crimes twice during his teenage years, more than a decade before the instant offense. Because of those prior convictions, the sole sentencing option was life, Judge Hurd said.

"The increment of harm in this case bears no rational relationship to the increment of punishment that I must impose," Judge Hurd said at a sentencing proceeding last week in Utica.  "This is what occurs when Congress sets [a] mandatory minimum sentence which distorts the entire judicial process....  As a result, I am obligated to and will now impose this unfair and, more important, unjust sentence."

UPDATE:  Thanks to TalkLeft, I see that the full NYLJ article is now available here.  As I said before, it is a must-read.  TalkLeft in this post reacts to the sentence Judge Hurd felt compelled to impose and attacks the application of harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

January 19, 2006 at 04:45 PM | Permalink

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