Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What are those judges thinking?!

Do you ever wonder what judges actually think?  Unless they're testifying before Congress, giving us a piece of their minds in a written legal opinion, or (even more rarely) being quoted in a news article, federal judges' true feelings about our sentencing system rarely come out.

Until today, that is.  The U.S. Sentencing Commission just released a tell-all report on what federal judges actually think about the sentences they're handing out on the day job! 

I liked this survey right off the bat.  Question 1:  Are mandatory minimums generally appropriate for the offenses they apply to?  The response:  for all crimes carrying mandatory minimums, only 38% of judges thought they were appropriate; 62% said they were too high.

With drug crimes, it apparently depends on the drug.  The biggest loser:  crack cocaine.  Only 23% of responding judges said that crack mandatory minimums were appropriate for the crime.  A whopping 76% said they were too high.  When three out of four judges think a sentence is too harsh, we have a problem that needs fixing -- right now.

Among the other questions the Commission asked judges: who should receive the benefit of an expanded "safety valve" (an exception to mandatories that currently applies only to low-level drug offenders)? Should the Commission set up its guideline ranges with no regard for mandatory minimums? Are current guideline ranges too high for the crimes to which they apply?

I could go on and on about all these goodies, but I'll refrain. For now.

-- Stowe