That's the title of this New York Times editorial praising both jury and judge in the remarkable federal sentencing of defendant Rodney Gurley. You can read Judge William Young's 51-page opinion in the case, courtesy of our friend Doug Berman over at Sentencing Law and Policy.
As many of you know, drug quantity is everything in the federal system -- how much drugs and what kind determine the mandatory minimum sentence that applies. And often, police and prosecutors accuse people of being involved with more drugs than they actually might have seen, touched, sold, or known about (particularly when the person is involved in a drug conspiracy, with lots of others involved).
The Times editorial sums up nicely the facts of the Gurley case and why it is such an anomaly:
Rodney Gurley faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for possession of 28 or more grams of crack cocaine with an intent to distribute it because he had previously been convicted of a felony.
The police found 32 grams in the apartment where he was arrested, but a federal jury in Boston found that the amount of crack “properly attributable” to Mr. Gurley did not exceed 28 grams. Relying on the jury for guidance, Federal District Judge William Young sensibly imposed a sentence of 30 months. That riled the Justice Department, which insisted it was entitled to have the judge, not the jury, decide factors in sentencing and that Mr. Gurley should have gotten the 10-year minimum. The government has appealed the sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. ...
The government’s view in this case is that since the police found 32 grams of cocaine, Judge Young should have imposed the longer term. In his recent sentencing opinion, Judge Young explained that his discretion was limited by the jury’s finding once the government agreed that the court should ask the jury to decide the cocaine amount at issue as “a factual question central to the defendant’s culpability.”
Since federal mandatory minimum sentences were enacted in 1986 and prosecutors began to “run our federal criminal justice system,” as the judge said, much of the debate has focused on the reduction of judges’ power in sentencing. The Booker case and others have restored some of it, but there remain excessive mandatory minimums, which Congress should rescind.What a concept! To be sentenced according to the facts a jury actually found you guilty of -- not what a prosecutor says you did. To have a judge decide your sentence after looking at all of the facts of your case and who you are -- not just slap on a one-size-fits-all punishment established by a legislature that's never laid eyes on you. Gee...it kind of sounds like a ... fair and individualized sentencing system!
That's the kind of system FAMM's been fighting for since 1991.