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June 2, 2006

State legislator speaks out against mandatories

In the Philadelphia Inquirer, State Representative Greg Vitali has this notable op-ed entitled, "Mandatory sentences, minimum justice." Here's a portion of the strong piece that should be read in full (especially now that legislation is in the works to create a rigid mandatory federal sentencing scheme):

When some people learn that I'm opposed to minimum mandatory sentencing laws, they accuse me of "voting with the drug dealers and against our children." That's just campaign rhetoric, promoted by those eager to appear "tough on crime." These sentencing laws, regrettably, impede our judicial system's ability to do justice....

The main problem with mandatory minimum sentences is that they take away the ability of judges to consider the individual circumstances of each case when imposing sentence....  Another problem with mandatory minimums is that they skew our system of justice by shifting power from judges to prosecutors....  Finally, mandatory minimum sentences have added huge costs to Pennsylvania's corrections budget....  A much better approach would be to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing and rely on the sentencing guidelines already set up by the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission.

As of now, legislators who oppose mandatory minimums are losing the sound bite war. That's why many politicians who oppose mandatory minimums nevertheless will not vote against them - they consider such a vote political suicide. The groups who oppose mandatory minimums must be more vocal in their opposition, particularly groups with a vested interest, such as the judges whose role is being impeded, the lawyers who see how mandatory minimums skew the system, and the groups working for justice in our communities.  Only these groups can educate the public about the problems with mandatory minimums, and provide the political cover that legislators need to make changes.  Those changes need to be made soon. Our system of justice depends on it.

June 2, 2006 at 09:03 AM | Permalink


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I am a retired history proofessor who briefly practiced law.
I have already received a bullying phone call from some police agency pushing mandatory sentencing laws, and I can see how easily thoughtful consideration can be trumped by bullheaded moral militancy. Police want more bargaining power than they should have. I'm squarely behind Greg Vitali on this.

Posted by: Cornelius J. Kiley | Aug 20, 2006 11:55:26 PM

i am interested in the mm sentencing and what anyone who is in office plans to do about this lie that ties the hands of judges and leaves it to prosecutors who are trying to be president in a day. prison is such a lucrative business now that i am terrified to j-walk. i have been in the joint and there is no justice because once you have served a sentence, if you get in touble again, they enhance your time that was supposed to be your punishment and throw you away. you pay and pay with the new system of things. it should go back to the judges have the authority to judge each case on its merits

Posted by: jo-marie | Nov 24, 2009 12:20:30 PM

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