Recently, attorney David W. White Jr., President of the Massachusetts Bar Association, published a piece in The Boston Globe, “Fixing Our Criminal Sentencing System“, on the subject of mandatory criminal sentencing.
For those of you who may not know, “mandatory minimum sentencing” laws are the Massachusetts state legislature’s (and many other state legislatures’) answer to the public’s increasing intolerance and fear about certain types of crimes, mostly drug-related, as well as their frustration over what they perceive as “soft on crime” judges. Hence, the legislature stepped up to enact “mandatory minimum sentencing” for defendants who are found guilty of certain types of crimes. As said, most of these crimes are drug-related. Most all crimes carry sentencing penalties that range from minimum to the maximum allowed under law, and upon a finding of guilt, a judge normally has the discretion to impose any sentence within that range. Mandatory minimum sentencing takes that discretion out of a judge’s hands: Upon a finding of guilt for certain types of crimes, the judge is forced to impose a strict, mandatory jail sentence No consideration of extenuating circumstances, no consideration of mitigating factors, no consideration of character witnesses, no consideration of leniency. End of story.
“Lock ’em up and throw away the key.” Sound like a good ending? You should think twice before thinking that this is either a good idea, or that it will reduce certain types of crime. The truth it, it does neither. What it does mostly, is fill up our state prisons to the bursting point, often with defendants that don’t pose a great threat to the general public – and that cost the taxpayers an enormous sum of money to process, house and feed.
I’ll address why this type of criminal sentencing can be a bad idea, in my next entry.