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Undermining justice and logic: judge on mandatory minimums

"[O]ppressively harsh, even draconian" is the way we termed in a recent blog post many criminal sentencing outcomes dependent on so-called "mandatory minimum" guidelines.

Those rules -- which can materially limit a court's discretion in select cases -- often yield, as we note in our May 22 post, "lengthy lockups for alleged wrongdoers that often span decades."

The focus on mandatory sentencing in the federal sphere has been both sharp and unremitting recently, especially in the wake of current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' clearly expressed support for the reinvigorated application of the harsh sentencing tool in many cases.

Sessions' high regard for the alleged logic and efficacy of mandatory minimums is far from matched by a wide swath of the public.

And, notably, discontent with mandatory sentencing exists at the very core of the criminal justice system, where sentencing outcomes are evaluated and pronounced, namely, with judges themselves.

A number of judges across the country have voiced discontent with mandatory minimums over the years, lamenting the limiting effects they impose on judicial discretion in given cases.

Recently, federal judge Mark Bennett took his criticism a step further, stating that adherence to the guidelines too often yields a start misapplication of justice.

In too many cases, he says, it is not truly dangerous high-level drug traffickers and hard-drug peddlers of vast quantities who are targeted by mandatory minimums. Rather, the nation's federal lockups are stuffed with first-time and nonviolent drug offenders whose chief problem is their drug addiction and not a propensity or desire to commit crime.

Putting them away for years is inequitable, Bennett says.

In fact, the judge charges, it is "a miscarriage of justice" that compels him and like-minded people to forcefully speak out.

Far too many people who shouldn't even be in prison are locked away behind penitentiary doors, says Bennett, with mandatory sentencing being a chief catalyst promoting that sad reality.

"I basically couldn't live with myself if I didn't speak out," he recently stated in a national news report spotlighting mandatory minimums.

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