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October 25, 2006

New mandatory minimum report about PA state judges

Over at the FAMM website, I just saw a notable new report about mandatory minimum sentencing entitled "'We're Supposed to Sentence Individuals, Not Crimes' — A Survey of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judges on Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Statutes."   This report, which was authored by a senior state judge and a California academic and can be accessed here, provides a lot of background on the long-standing debate over mandatory sentencing terms, in addition to examining "the experiences and attitudes of sentencing judges regarding MMSS in one state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."  Here are snippets from the conclusion:

The purpose of this study was to examine the opinions and experiences of sentencing judges in Pennsylvania with mandatory minimum sentencing statutes. The result of the study is clear: most of Pennsylvania's sentencing judges do not favor mandatory minimum sentencing statutes....

When the judge is statutorily precluded from considering some factors that may be critical to obtaining a "just" result, he or she cannot weigh and balance all interests involved.  This weighing-and-balancing process is the essence of judgment and gives it legitimacy. 

Perfection, like justice, is an elusive but worthy goal.  Reducing crime is a fundamental public interest. But by seeking to reduce crime in general by requiring the imposition of mandatory sentences on individuals, legislators pursue the interest of crime reduction with a policy that is ineffective in reducing crime and at the same time impedes the pursuit of justice.

October 25, 2006 at 04:13 PM | Permalink


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It seems to me that this seeming contradiction is really quite simple. Fixed penalties are exacted to enforce the state’s warning, “Commit a crime and you will be penalized.” Variable punishments are exacted to hold offenders accountable. Warning enforcement and accountability are both valid sentencing objectives. Penalties and punishments are deprivations. Impose the more restrictive of the two. The less restrictive can be nested within the more restrictive.

Posted by: tom McGee | Oct 25, 2006 4:57:48 PM

I'm none of the above - just someone interested in mandatory minimums because I have a friend just sentenced. I was wondering if you might be able to help me out - I'm trying to figure out if he has the possibility of pre-release. He was sentenced to 5-10 years in Dauphin County, PA, but, like a lot of these drug cases, it seems, got much more time than he deserves. Is there potential for pre-release? If you need additional information to help me out with this I am happy to provide it. I just thought this was a good forum for this type of question since it sounds like several legal experts browse and write here.

Posted by: Carrie | May 29, 2008 11:59:05 AM

I also have a friend recently sentenced in a drug sales case who took a plea bargain for then years rather than fight 19-34 years. This case is a shemeful decision made by our blood thirsty prosecutors. He is an 18 year old college student who provided a product to suburban kids and adults who were looking for it anyway, he was not a peddler.
I myself am a 24 year old student who resides in chester county.

Posted by: jason | Feb 6, 2009 3:40:35 AM

Mr. McGee, obviously by your words, you have never known anyone close to you to be effected by the mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These laws are archaic and barbaric. They were intended to stop drug traffickers, not low level hustlers. The result is that the trafficker holding $100,000 of drugs can afford a good attorney, manipulating the mandatory minimum and walking away with a 5 to 10 while the low level corner dealer gets caught for $40 worth of drugs and goes to prison for 2 to 4. This is not justice in any way. We are destroying the lives of our young people by both imprisoning them for lengthy periods of time to teach a lesson that could easily be learned by three months in the county and probation. They they have to carry felony records the rest of their lives which impedes their every opportunity to get a decent job. For a low level corner dealer, the current system has them pay for their crime their entire life. Again, this is not justice but a sham hiding behind the cloak of legislation.

Posted by: Deb | Oct 30, 2010 9:19:04 AM

What does pre-release mean in PA is it early parole? My husband is going thru the pre-release process in PA but i moved to Georgia with our kids. Under these circumstances do you think they will allow him to transfer to a pre-release center in GA?

Posted by: aminah | Sep 9, 2011 8:21:25 PM

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