Posts Tagged ‘jail’

Sentencing Guidelines, Part II

January 18, 2010

I came across another example of the way our judges are not allowed to use their own judgment anymore.  These are the kinds of things that don’t make the newspapers.  “Tough on crime” rolls off the tongue really easily, and it makes us all feel good, but it doesn’t take into account all the cases that get swept under the rug of injustice in our furor to rid our streets of violent crime.

This was a Jacksonville case.  The charge was possession of cocaine.  The defendant had prior felony convictions, and the sentencing guidelines called for a minimum sentence of 14 months in prison.  But the trial judge felt that the defendant was amenable to drug treatment, so he sentenced the man to six months in the county jail, to be served in the residential drug program (which is a well-respected treatment program).  The state appealed, arguing that the judge did not have a valid reason for sentencing the man to a sentence lower than the sentencing guidelines called for.  The First District Court of Appeal agreed, ruling that the judge did not have a valid reason for a “downward departure” sentence, and sent the case back to the trial court for resentencing within the guidelines.

I’m not faulting the First District Court of Appeal.  The court’s legal reasoning was correct.  And I’m not saying that the trial judge’s sentence was the one I would have imposed.  I don’t know anything about the particular facts of the case.  I might have felt that a prison sentence was more appropriate.  The point is that trial judges are supposed to use their experience, reasoning, and judgment in making these kinds of decisions, and in many cases their hands are tied.  The law does not always permit them to impose the sentences they feel are appropriate and justified under the particular circumstances of the case.

If you were in front of a judge, no matter whether it was for a traffic ticket, a DUI, or any other crime, wouldn’t you want the judge to make a sentencing decision based on all the facts? Wouldn’t you want the judge to consider your particular circumstances?  I know I would.

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