« Four Senators write to AG Sessions with pointed questions about the Sessions Memo on charging and sentencing | Main | "Facial Profiling: Race, Physical Appearance, and Punishment" »

June 8, 2017

Judge Jack Weinstein talks through general deterrence and gang activity in federal gun sentencing

A helpful reader forwarded to me the latest interesting sentencing opinion authored by US District Judge Jack Weinstein. The full 25-page opinion in US v. Lawrence, No. 16-CR-243 (E.D.N.Y. May 23, 2017), is an interesting read for a lot of reasons, is not readily summarized and is available for download below. Here is how it gets started and ends to provide taste for the full opinion:

Defendant in the instant case pled guilty to a serious crime.  He is either a gang member or on the verge of becoming one.  He recklessly fired an illegally possessed handgun repeatedly down a public street, with the likelihood that a passing pedestrian might be hit: in fact he wounded his companion.

This case presents some of the critical difficulties in federal sentencing. It requires balancing general deterrence (and, relatedly, incapacitation) by a relatively long prison term with specific deterrence (and its other aspect, rehabilitation) by a relatively short term in prison. Both must be considered under section 3553(a)(2)(B) of section [1]8 of the United States Code.  By compromising, and reducing a somewhat draconian sentence (possibly less effective for general deterrence), or increasing the sentence (possibly less effective for rehabilitation), the sentence may risk frustrating either goal.

The subtle weighing of alternatives is made more difficult by the presence of numerous competing vectors (such as family or work or criminal history).  In the present case the court accepted, and acted on, testimony of an expert witness that increasing the length of incarceration does not proportionally increase general or specific deterrence....

The Guidelines do not consider gang membership as a factor in sentencing, except for defendants who are sentenced under 18 U.S.C. § 521 (pertaining to criminal street gangs), where the Guidelines provide for an upward departure. U.S.S.G. § 5K2.18.  Were gang membership a sentencing factor in cases other than those under 18 U.S.C. § 521, courts would give greater weight to this factor.  This court recommends that the Sentencing commission revisit the gang membership problem.

Download Lawrence - Judgment%2c Memo%2c and Order

June 8, 2017 at 10:08 AM | Permalink


I do not understand the defense bar.

In general deterrence, one punishes your client to scare a person he has never met, over whom he has no control, and who has not yet formulated an intent to commit a crime. This is a violation of the Fifth Amendment procedural due process right to a fair hearing.

The word "general" when referring to people outside the case, in any judge utterance, should immediately result in a motion for a mistrial. It should then result in a demand for recusal. It should then result in formal complaint to the administrative judge, and a demand that the judge be immediately removed from all duties in any trial. This judge is nuts. He should not be allowed to return until he has had a neuro-psychiatric evaluation, and then 50 hours of CLE in criminal procedure and in constitutional law.

Can one of you defense people explain to me why this tactic has never been used?

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 8, 2017 11:07:46 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB