Wednesday, January 19, 2005

What's Wrong with Minimum Sentences? Nothing!

Backlash from sentencing edict? - The Washington Times: Commentary - January 17, 2005. There has been much in the press about the end of Sentencing guidelines, and how they will likely be replaced by mandatory minimums. I reference a Washington Times (part of the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy?) story on purpose, since it seems more in line with what the left is saying. In this article, a case that deals with mandatory minimums is addressed - to show how bad they are I think.

The case in question is about a fellow, Weldon Angelos, who at trial was facing 105 years minimum sentence for gun-related offences during the commission of other crimes. He turned down a plea bargain for 15 years, was tried, convicted and sentenced to 55 years. The judge called this sentence - dictated by the minimums - cruel.

Perhaps some of the minimums are out of balance. If so, let's see legislation to change them. But let's not forget where "Judicial discretion" got us in the late 1980's and 1990's. High levels of violent crime were endemic in this country.

crime stats
Today, we have lower levels of violent crime than both Canada and the UK. And yes, part this reduction has been the "get tough" policy that removes violent offenders from our midst. (Does Mr. Angelos qualify as violent? A person who brings a gun to the commission of a crime is not my ideal citizen. A jury convicted him of the crimes at hand...) [Note that the graph is hyperlinked to the FBI website for the raw data. 2004 data is still "preliminary"]

Mandatory minimum sentencing is part (part - not the whole) of what has let us drive violent crime to near 30 year lows. Let's not forget that.

If the sentence is more than "aircraft hijacking, second degree murder, espionage, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and rape," as the judge lamented, then let's correct the injustice by increasing the sentence for all of these crimes. If in fact, the sentence for Mr. Angelos' crimes is too severe, then let's readjust the minimums. Let's not get rid of a system that is working to reduce crime rates.

No one forced Mr. Angelos to sell drugs to US agents. No one forced Mr. Angelos to carry a gun during the commission of a crime. No one forced Mr. Angelos to turn down the plea agreement - when it looked like he was caught red-handed.

As for prosecutors seeking maximum penalties, that's their job. A plea is usually going to be for fewer crimes, since that is the carrot. Plead to these crimes, and you won't face the maximum we can throw at you; turn down the plea, and all bets are off.

As for commuting his sentence, as the judge has asked, I say let him serve the 15 years first.

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