Criminal Justice

Mandatory Sentence Laws Harsh, Unfair, Federal Judge Tells Congress

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Federal laws requiring federal judges to impose mandatory minimum sentences can be unfair and unduly harsh, and certain individual laws are especially objectionable, the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law told a Congressional subcommittee today.

“I have found the application of one particularly egregious mandatory minimum sentencing provision to result in sentences that are cruel and unusual, unwise and unjust,” testified Paul G. Cassell, referring to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which sets a minimum sentence of 25 years the second time a drug dealer carries a gun. A federal district judge in Utah, Cassell was testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security at a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing laws, according to a press release by the federal judiciary on the U.S. Courts Web site.

“It is hard to explain why a federal judge is required to give a longer sentence to a first offender who carried a gun to several marijuana deals than to a man who murdered an elderly woman,” Cassell said.

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