Friday, June 1, 2012

Good and Mad Reading for the Weekend

Here at FAMM, we've always known that U.S. sentencing laws are some of the harshest in the world.  Now we have a report to back us up:  it's called Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context, from the University of San Francisco School of Law's Center for Law and Global Justice.

What makes us such excessive punishers? Compared with the rest of the world, we use more mandatory minimum, habitual offender, and life without parole sentences.

The mandatory minimum section starts on page 42. While our mandatory minimums are by no means unique, they are, the report finds, less yielding than most others around the world:
Of 168 countries surveyed, 137 countries have a minimum sentence requirement. This is a hallmark of many civil law systems, which establish sentencing ranges for each crime. While most countries have mandatory minimums, many of them allow lowering the minimum for mitigation purposes. Thirty-one countries do not have minimums or they allow for judicial discretion to lower the sentence below the established minimum.

The severity of mandatory minimums in the United States is more profound when contrasted with other countries. Under U.S. federal law, a criminal defendant who is convicted of possession of 1 kilogram of heroin, or 5 kilos of cocaine will receive a mandatory 10 year sentence, while the same offender in Britain would receive no more than 6 months’ imprisonment in a British summary trial.

In 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada found a mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years for importing narcotics to constitute cruel and unusual punishment under Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.319 The Court ultimately concluded that,”[t]he seven-year minimum sentence is not per se cruel and unusual but it becomes so because it must be imposed regardless of the circumstances of the offence or the offender. Its arbitrary imposition will inevitably result in some cases in a legislatively ordained grossly disproportionate sentence.”
Wouldn't we love to hear the U.S. Supreme Court make the same ruling here!