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February 4, 2008

Poetic sentencing justice thanks to Wal-Mart

As first discussed here, the re-sentencing of former Wal-Mart vice chairman Tom Coughlin resulted in an interesting and important post-Gall opinion from U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson.  The full 30-page opinion (available here) merits a close read, and I wanted to highlight this lengthy poetic paragraph at the very end of the opinion:

[T]he Court notes that there has been considerable debate of late concerning the sentencings of criminal defendants such as Gall and Coughlin and the role of the Guidelines in those sentencings. The goal is to reconcile a congressional desire to achieve some semblance of national uniformity in sentencing with a conflicting desire to maintain the discretion of sentencing judges, while not infringing upon the Sixth Amendment right to have jurors decide certain sentencing facts. The debate percolates from the deepest foundations of the criminal justice system, holds its principles to light and inquires into the nature and desirability of forms and degrees of punishment.  That vigorous debate, played out in media and in courts, evidences the nation’s desire for criminal courts that are powerful in their imposition of punishment but not prideful in their formulation of sentences, effective in their determent of crime but not cruel in their measure of retribution, firm enough to apply the forceful hand of the law but merciful enough not to raise the specter of tyranny.  It is the struggle towards that goal that makes the American criminal justice system one of the greatest achievements of this nation’s social evolution and ingenuity. Punishment is imposed parsimoniously and with respectful consideration for the individuality of each peculiar defendant.  A court that mechanically doles out precalculated sentences on a wholesale basis to categories of faceless defendants fails to do justice. A court that succumbs to apathy, bred by repetition, will cease to see defendants as individuals, with pasts and potentials, with humanity and promise.  “It is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men,” and “the terrible thing about legal officials . . . is simply that they have gotten used to it.” Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles 54-55 (BiblioBazar, LLC 2006) (1909). “[T]he more a man looks at a thing, the less he can see it,” so that “they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see is the usual man in the usual place.  They do not see the awful court of judgment; they only see their own workshop.”  Id. at 55.

February 4, 2008 at 09:45 AM | Permalink


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