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November 23, 2007

Judge Professor Paul Cassell still speaking out about unfair sentencing

This article from the Deseret Morning News, headlined "Former federal judge is striving for balance," catches up with former federal judge Paul Cassell now that he has been off the bench and back in the academy for a few weeks. Here are some snippets with a sentencing focus:

Sitting in his temporary office at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, Cassell told the Deseret Morning News that, as a federal judge, he felt there were several areas in federal law that were out of balance, particularly in the areas of minimum-mandatory sentencing and prosecution of some illegal immigrants. He saw some aspects of federal law caught in a vortex of political competitiveness for tougher sentences pushed by members of Congress....

"There's a kind of ratchet effect where the Republicans will say, 'We want a five-year mandatory minimum sentence,' and Democrats will say, 'We'll up you, we want a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence,' and you have people ratcheting up sentences to the point where any reasonable observer would think we've gone too high, but there's no political incentive to undo the mischief." Cassell said, in his mind, it takes political courage to step up and say the punishment does not fit the crime....

Cassell said he found himself questioning some laws at each turn. "I felt like it was proper judicial role to ask questions, even if we weren't necessarily charged with fixing the problem," he said. But he wanted to do more — he wanted to make a change. Being a federal judge, he couldn't do that. "One of the frustrations about being a trial court judge is that you never set broad principles of law; of course, that's reserved for the appellate courts. ... When I was there for 5 1/2 years, I began to think that maybe I would have more effect in moving the law in a way that I think is desirable by doing appellate litigation." Becoming a legal advocate is a better fit, he said. "I felt like for the rest of my life, I wasn't sure I could stay in one place doing one kind of thing. There were some issues I wanted to pursue, particularly working on crime victims' rights, which is an area that I felt very passionately about."

Traditionally, criminal cases involve two parties: the state and the defendant. But a growing trend in courts is to give the victims of crimes more of a voice in cases. In addition to teaching at the U., Cassell plans to work with a Washington, D.C., group that deals with crime victims' rights. It seems being a voice for balance is innate in Cassell.

One of the last things he did as a federal judge is speak out on the issue of sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine. As chairman of the Judicial Conference's Criminal Law Committee, Cassell said he spoke for the judiciary when he sent a letter to the president and Congress supporting the Federal Sentencing Commission's recommendation to reduce sentences for crack cocaine possession versus powder. Such sentences bear a 100-to-1 ratio to sentences for powder cocaine. "The differences between crack and powder cocaine penalties have been hurting the federal judiciary's credibility in minority communities, particularly in the African-American communities, who view the differences as racially motivated," Cassell said.

November 23, 2007 at 01:55 PM | Permalink

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Comments

My son was found guilty of a rape crime in New Hampshire with DNA of him but DNA of another people that was allowed in court. My son is 36yrs.old NEVER in trouble, lost in the system with no one to help...given 50 to a 100 years...CAN YOU HELP ME, PLEASE!!!!!!

Posted by: Betty R. Hooper | Dec 11, 2007 1:41:46 PM

Cassell's all over the issue when he perceives that a perpetrator's rights are being violated. Forget it if you're a lowly victim.

Posted by: Annonymous | Dec 29, 2007 10:13:25 PM

i dont beleave in heavy sent for miner drug dealers but do for the drug barrons also people r not forced upon to take drugs they use it cos they wish to use it just like going buying drugs leagaly from a drug store that is just as harmfull smoking or even drinking hundrad off things that r leagle can desroy u i dont like drug barrons cos there greedy and harm people it should be leaglised

Posted by: linda | Feb 11, 2011 5:42:35 PM

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