December 30, 2012
Talk in Georgia of reform of mandatory minimum sentencing provisionsAs reported in this local article, headlined "Mandatory minimum sentences face scrutiny: Some prefer to give judges more leeway in some cases," there is now serious talk of serious reform in Georgia of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. The article starts this way:
Mandatory minimum sentences may get a hard look from state legislators in the upcoming session, and at least some Hall County leaders think that’s a good idea. “I’m not a legal scholar or professional in the legal world,” state Rep.-elect Lee Hawkins said. “But just looking at it from a common sense side, I question the need for mandatory minimum sentencing when we have more than capable judges who can listen to a case and make a decision based on the facts.”
The sentencing guidelines established by state law have come under increasing scrutiny as an expensive prison population continues to affect Georgia’s budget.
A criminal justice council created by Gov. Nathan Deal recommended in a 2011 report that judges be given more discretion in some cases. The council recommended in its most recent 2012 report that the legislature consider implementing a “mandatory minimum safety valve,” which would allow judges more discretion in cases of nonviolent crimes, particularly those drug-related, or those in which criminals have cooperated with police.
For judges, the issue can be a matter of compassion. Former Superior Court Judge John Girardeau said in his experience, problems with mandatory minimums were infrequent but raised concerns. “It doesn’t happen frequently, but there’s been enough instances where I’ve had to impose a sentence required by law that I thought under the circumstances was an unjust sentence, and that was troubling,” he said.
Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh, though, said minimum sentencing is beneficial for prosecutors and victims. “Mandatory minimum sentences are an invaluable tool to prosecutors in this state in ensuring justice for victims of the most serious crimes on the books,” Darragh said.
Many of the laws that created mandatory minimums began in a wave of “tough on crime” feelings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Girardeau said. “Back when these laws were enacted, I think there was a perception that some judges were too lenient on some crimes,” he said.
However, democracy is the remedy, Girardeau said. “Given that our judges are elected, if judges with any consistency impose what the local community feels is being a too lenient a sentence, the judge stands for election every four years,” Girardeau said. “People can speak at the ballot box.”
December 30, 2012 at 05:57 PM | Permalink
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Happy holiday season. I happened to be searching for a Georgia criminal law blog and stumbled upon your posting today. I was a student of yours in 2008, in your Sentencing Law & Policy seminar. I am now a prosecutor in Savannah, GA, assigned to the misdemeanor and DUI division.
Your post today discussing Georgia sentencing law recalls to me a theme you raised in the seminar - that of actors in the sentencing process. Based on my experience in Savannah, i would agree with the notion that judges, rather than the state legislature in setting mandatory minimums, should function as the preferred actor during sentencing, as judges are closer to the evidence and the attorneys presenting the arguments. A disadvantage, however, could lie in the judge's role as gatekeeper of admissible evidence, where prejudicial evidence could motivate a judge toward a higher sentence, notwithstanding any ruling to exclude that evidence. The jury would not be a reliable or consistent actor in this scenario, so i would not suggest placing the responsibility in those hands. Civil damage awards are one thing, but criminal sentencing is another entirely.
Thanks for listening, Professor, and thanks for keeping us all informed!
Posted by: Mario Medina | Dec 30, 2012 11:09:56 PM
What about viloent offenders that has to serve 30 or more years on their first offense
Posted by: | Jan 15, 2013 2:56:04 AM
What can we do to try and help get this law changed to try and help alot of ga inmates. The prisons are to crowded and costing tax payers alot of money pls tell me who do u write to try and get this law changed...
Posted by: lissa | Jan 21, 2013 5:50:53 PM