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January 17, 2013

Judiciary Committee Chair Leahy expresses interest in mandatory minumum sentencing reform

At the end of this lengthy post at The BLT, I discovered some interesting and encouraging sentencing reform news coming from a speech given yesterday by Senator Patrick Leahy.  Here is the start and end of the post:

Senate Judiciary Committee will dedicate most of its time this spring to comprehensive immigration reform, including changes for technology companies and agricultural businesses, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, said Wednesday.

"We have to find a way through the partisan gridlock to enact meaningful change on immigration laws, and that should include a path for citizenship," Leahy said at Georgetown University Law Center this morning. "I know I’m going to hear a lot of different views on this, but I hope that in the end we can honor those who came before us from distant lands in search of freedom and opportunity."...

The committee will also focus on promoting national standards and oversight for forensic labs and practitioners, as well as fiscal issues related to the high rate of imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentences, Leahy said.

The reliance on mandatory minimum sentences has been "a great mistake," Leahy said. "Let judges act as judges and make up their own mind what should be done. The idea we protect society by one size fits all…it just does not work in the real world."

Leahy also said there are too many young people, minorities, and people from the inner cities, who are serving time where others who do the same crime get lighter penalties.  He used the example of someone from the inner city buying $100 of cocaine could spend years in prison, while a Wall Street banker would only face reprimand, and maybe spend a week of public service on Park Avenue.

January 17, 2013 at 10:32 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Leahy's comment, at least as presented, is internally inconsistent. On the one hand, he states that a one size fits all approach to sentencing doesn't work in the real world. On the other, he laments that "someone from the inner city" gets a different sentence than a "Wall Street banker" for committing the same crime.

The latter statement is not entirely clear in its meaning (is he referring to racial differences, to powder vs. crack disparities, to something else), but on its face, the statement contradicts the first -- if we do not have a one size fits all approach to sentencing, the it logically follows that different people, with different backgrounds, different histories, different levels of contribution, etc., will be treated differently for the same crimes. It doesn't help that, literally and geographically speaking, Wall Street is about as "inner city" as it gets.

Posted by: C60 | Jan 17, 2013 10:46:14 AM

"'The reliance on mandatory minimum sentences has been 'a great mistake,' Leahy said. 'Let judges act as judges and make up their own mind what should be done. The idea we protect society by one size fits all…it just does not work in the real world.'"

Nonsense. Imprisonment, including MM's, most certainly does work in the real world. When the crime rate is half what it was a generation ago, the idea that society's main weapon against adjudicated serious criminals -- jailing them -- "doesn't work" is absurd.

If you want to know something that "doesn't work," take a look at our vastly expensive welfare programs. The number of people now below the poverty line, after billions and billions of welfare spending, is at an all-time high.

"Leahy also said there are too many young people, minorities, and people from the inner cities, who are serving time where others who do the same crime get lighter penalties. He used the example of someone from the inner city buying $100 of cocaine could spend years in prison, while a Wall Street banker would only face reprimand, and maybe spend a week of public service on Park Avenue."

Sen. Leahy thus makes an excellent case for the return of mandatory guidelines, where judges couldn't go soft on their fellow Yale grads who belong to the same country clubs.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 17, 2013 2:27:54 PM

'The number of people now below the poverty line, after billions and billions of welfare spending, is at an all-time high.'

way too much #2 red kool-aid drinking has affected the poor puppy making that statement doubt he's truly representative of the shrinking middle class populating the U.S. these days andf steadily supplying more foder to the poverty levels

Posted by: Brent | Jan 17, 2013 7:18:59 PM

Brent --

I guess that rightwing rag, the New York Times, has been drinking too much kool-aid, since it is the source of my statement, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/14census.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Let me quote you the first paragraph of the NYT story:

"Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it."

P.S. It is (1) none of your business and (2) utterly irrelevant, whether I am in the middle class. The number of people below the poverty line has zip to do with my personal economic standing.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 17, 2013 11:33:04 PM

Brent --

What? No answer? Been drinking too much Kool Aid?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 21, 2013 5:13:32 PM

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