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June 17, 2006

How high can the mandatories go?

Weldon Angelos' federal sentencing made headlines because of the application of a harsh 55-year mandatory minimum term (background here), and I reported here on an Arizona case in which a 200-year term was required by state mandatory minimum terms.  But, as detailed in this article, a federal sentencing in Baltimore on Friday might set a new record for a mandatory minimum sentencing term:

A disgraced Baltimore police detective was sentenced this morning to 315 years in prison for shaking down drug dealers, but the federal judge called the term, which he had to impose by law, "inappropriate" and said it should be reviewed by the Supreme Court.  Detective William A. King, 35, showed little reaction as U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz imposed the lengthy prison sentence....

In April, a jury convicted King and his former partner, Antonio L. Murray, on drug and gun charges that carried stiff, mandatory penalties required by Congress.  King was convicted of several counts of robbing drug dealers, which were considered armed robberies because King had a weapon -- his police-issued gun -- at his side.  The first gun count carries a mandatory five-year sentence; each subsequent count carries a mandatory 25-year sentence, to be served consecutively, hence the lengthy prison term....

Motz said that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to review the case because he believes the law has been misinterpreted in how the 25-year gun sentences are handed out.  The judge said the 25-year penalties should only apply to those who re-offend after their first conviction.  King, he said, should not have been required to face so many consecutive 25-year sentences within the same case, which is his first conviction.

UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun now has this follow-up article on Judge Motz's criticisms of the federal sentencing system while imposing this sentence.  Here in a snippet:

"There is something fundamental wrong with this sentence," Motz said, comparing his condition to the dilemma of Pontius Pilate, the biblical judge of Jesus who expressed doubts but imposed a death sentence anyway. Appearing anguished and rubbing his face, Motz described the sentence as "absolutely disproportionate to the wrong that was committed, although the wrong that was committed was a very serious one."...

Motz said that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to review the case because he believes the justices earlier misinterpreted how the 25-year gun sentences should be meted out. The judge said the 25-year penalties should only apply to those who re-offend after their first conviction. Therefore King, Motz said, should not have been required to face so many consecutive 25-year sentences within the same case, which is his first conviction.

King's lawyer, Edward Smith Jr., said he plans to appeal the conviction and sentence. "He has a lot of courage," Smith said of Motz's comments. King was so convinced that he could win at trial that he turned down a plea bargain for 10 years in prison, according to Smith.

Though in this political climate, I suppose it does take some courage to speak out against the federal sentencing system.  But, by my lights, a true courage here could have produced a ruling that, under principles of constitutional doubt, the gun sentencing enhancements should not be fully applied in this sort of case.

June 17, 2006 at 01:56 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decision in Deal v US, 508 US 129 (1993), mandates this interpretation of 18 USC 924(c). The Supreme Court made a tragic error in statutory interpretation in Deal, which has had and continues to have extremely costly consequences both to the excessively-sentenced defendants, their families and communities, and to society at large. It also puts over-the-top leverage in the hands of U.S. Attorneys to coerce pleas and "cooperation" that cannot be relied upon for accuracy -- for the same reasons that the use of torture produces unreliable results.

Posted by: Peter G | Jun 17, 2006 4:31:16 PM

I am law enforcement officer who knows both King and Murray. I don't feel sorry for them at all. They disgraced all of us that wear the badge and should do every second of their jail terms. The resulting jail terms were brought about by their unlawful actions and they should never see freedom again.

Posted by: William | Jan 25, 2010 5:07:44 AM

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