A Judge On Sentencing

Former Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin offers some thoughts on sentencing and mandatory minimums in a recent Washington Post op-ed. Its no surprise that judges don’t like mandatory sentences, but Judge Scheindlin took the time to look at the data from her own sentencing history:

“After I left the bench, Peter Dubrowski — my last law clerk — and I decided that we would review the sentencing protocols for each of those 200 [drug case] defendants. As I expected, we found strikingly similar storylines. The overwhelming majority of the defendants were indigent. Seventy-two percent had children to support, and many of the defendants were under the age of 25 — barely adults themselves. More than half had not graduated from high school, most had not obtained a GED, and barely 5 percent had attended college. A majority battled alcohol addiction, drug addiction or both, and had begun abusing substances by age 14. Most were unemployed. Most came from single-parent homes, and most had at least one parent who was, or had been, incarcerated.

These common characteristics suggested that the defendants needed a brand of justice that would allow them to get their lives back on track, rather than deprive them of future jobs, roles supporting their families and chances to become productive in their communities. The right punishments would have given them a chance to achieve those goals. But many of the defendants in my courtroom were charged with crimes requiring a mandatory minimum sentence. As with Fabre, there was nothing I could do other than impose the required term.”

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