When The Court Weighs In: Why A Judge Hates Mandatory Sentencing

In Uncategorized by RSFJ

On behalf of Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry posted in Drug Crimes on Monday, June 5, 2017.

A packet of sugar.

Things like that are what likely keep Mark Bennett and other similarly thinking federal judges awake at night as they ponder the disconnect between the stated objectives of mandatory minimum sentencing rules in the federal realm and what those guidelines actually achieve.

And what they far too often yield as results, in judge Bennett’s view, is “a miscarriage of justice.”

We touched upon the burning topical issue of mandatory minimums in a recent blog post, noting in our May 17 entry that, “A scathing criticism of that tool stresses its misapplication in far too many cases.”

It’s not hard to find evidence that Bennett harbors precisely that view, with his comments on the subject being direct and hard hitting.

“I think it’s one of the gravest injustices in the history of America,” he says in remarking on sentences he is compelled to pronounce on defendants who he frankly doesn’t believe merit their harsh outcomes.

Back to that packet of sugar for a moment, as referenced in a recent CNN article on judicial backlash against the professed illogic and inequity of mandatory minimum sentencing outcomes in many instances. Reportedly, that was about the size/amount of methamphetamine that a grandmother who inadvertently got hooked on the drug sought to sell to a third party.

Bennett noted that the defendant would probably have been placed on probation if her sentence was being handed down in a state courtroom across the street.

Not in his courtroom.

With due resignation and apparent despair, Bennett sentenced the woman to 60 months in a federal penitentiary, notwithstanding her status as a former addict far removed from the high-level drug traffickers that have always been signified as the main targets of mandatory minimums.

What makes Bennett and other like-minded judges chafe is their lack of discretion to alter such an outcome, which Bennett says leads to inappropriate sentencing in his cases involving mandatory minimums about 80% of the time.

“I do not consider myself soft on crime,” he says, acknowledging the merit in mandatory sentencing for select hard-line offenders.

What he terms as a personal “burden,” though, is the forced application of mandatory outcomes in his courtroom in legions of cases where “low-level nonviolent” offenders are locked away for many years for their mistakes.

He wants that changed, and he says he will continue to speak out against mandatory sentencing until it is.