Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Former Congressman sees system from the inside

Known for supporting harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws during his term in Congress, disgraced former Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, from Rancho Santa Fe, California, said in an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune that he's gained a new perspective on the criminal justice system and would do things differently now. For example, votes that made penalties for crack cocaine harsher than for powder cocaine were wrong, he said.

“I didn’t know jack weenie about what people were going through in here,” he said.

Cunningham regrets pleading guilty almost five years ago to conspiracy and tax evasion charges, feeling he was pushed into accepting the plea on the advice of his lawyers when he was "physically and emotionally weakened." According to the article:
He said he balked at first, but lawyers Mark Holscher and K. Lee Blalack told him if he challenged the charges it would cost him millions to fight the case, and he would risk spending the rest of his life in prison.
“Was I knowingly and intelligently signing that thing? I don’t think so in the condition I was in,” he said last week. “But I trusted my (lawyers).” He said he did so because he believed and was told he would get a year or two off of his prison term.
Cunningham also said his time in prison has made him an emerging advocate for prison and prosecutorial reform. He said he has written members of Congress volunteering his help — and said that Democratic congressmen will probably be more supportive of his efforts than his former Republican colleagues.

SentenceSpeak certainly knows how disorienting the criminal justice can be, and we're glad Cunningham is speaking out about the need for reform.  Sadly, it took his own conviction to make him see how unjust mandatory sentencing laws really are, but better late than never.  We're happy to give you a primer on sentencing reform advocacy on both sides of the aisle, Mr. Cunningham.  Just give us a call!