Mark Bennett does a masterful takedown of the argument that statutes making “revenge porn” a crime would be constitutional. Read it; learn something.
One Thousand, Five Hundred and Thirty Two. According to this 2012 report, that’s how many crimes there are in Connecticut that carry a punishment of incarceration.
That’s three crimes a day for 510 days. That’s a cumulative 60 billion years of incarceration1.
And that’s about 1475 more than anyone’s ever read or paid attention to.
and crimes that make you go “huh?” – did you know that gas stations are required to provide free air, much less that a second conviction for failing to do so can send you to jail for 6 months?;
and crimes that are pretty clearly written for special interest groups – for instance, spreading a rumor that is derogatory to the financial condition of a bank3;
and crimes that really, really cannot be crimes:
Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be fined not more than fifty dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days or both.
This is a 1949 statute that doesn’t seem to have any case citations. Barring some sort of escape hatch hidden in “by his advertisement”, I can’t see how his statute passes First Amendment muster.
But yet, there it is, exposing every day citizens like you and me to 30 days in jail.
The top of the statutory scheme, with the obvious felonies isn’t in issue here (besides the stupid Risk of Injury). It’s at the bottom of the chart, where the punishments are a year and under that the fun lies.
As Jeremy points out, ignorance of the law is no excuse. What have you been guilty of?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes Vogons as:
[O]ne of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy – not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without an order, signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.
There is no way that Douglas Adams, when he created the Vogons, would have the foresight to know of the CT Supreme Court. But in his description of the Vogons, he has also put into words the most precise description of this State’s highest court1.
They’re not evil. They’re bureaucratic.
And they certainly won’t lift a finger unless every request you’ve made is signed in triplicate and somehow magically predicts the spot to the which they’re going to move the target and then manages to hit it perfectly, while following all the rules they’ve subsequently made up.
Some of their opinions are much like Vogon poems:
Vogon poetry is of course, the third worst in the universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their poet master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem “Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning”, four of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging and the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived only by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos was reported to have been “disappointed” by the poem’s reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his 12-book epic entitled “My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles” when his own major intestine–in a desperate attempt to save life itself-leapt straight up through his neck and throttled his brain.
So pretty much how I feel after reading CT Supreme Court opinions. Like this one from yesterday [PDF].
Meet Michael Pires, Sr2. Pires was a VeryBadMan©, guilty of murder. Michael Pires also had a big problem with his lawyer. In a word, he didn’t like her. So he tried, on many occasions to fire her. The problem is, that he didn’t hire her to begin with, so the upside-down law says that you can’t fire someone you didn’t hire.
As a poor person who couldn’t afford private counsel to defend a murder charge – and let’s be honest, unless you live in Fairfield County or the East End of Long Island, you can’t afford a private attorney to represent you on a murder charge – he was appointed a public defender.
And once you have counsel foisted upon you, you’re stuck with that attorney no matter how much you hate him or her. Because that’s what you get for free.
Now there is an alternative, which is usually used as a stick to make the carrot of the infuriating counsel-who-can’t-be-fired more attractive: represent yo’self! After all, Faretta v. California says that it a core Constitutional right to be permitted to represent oneself.
In order to exercise that right, you have to inform the Court somehow that you want to. That’s fair and logical. You can’t be afforded a right that you don’t express you want to exercise.
So, what did Pires do, after rounds of headbutting with his LawyerWhoCouldn’tBeFired? He apparently told her he wanted to represent himself. Which she duly conveyed to the court:
I did go downstairs and attempt to talk to [the defendant]. He did want to discuss strategy with me. He indicated now that he wishes to represent himself in this matter. I informed him that I didn’t think Your Honor was going to allow him to represent himself on a murder charge simply because that would be much too dangerous and it would not be in his best interest. And that’s about where we stand, Your Honor.
Putting aside the fact that counsel’s advice was blatantly wrong, she is alerting the court “that he wishes to represent himself in this matter”.
Now. Imagine you’re the CT Supreme Court. A court that has increasingly become reliant on procedural rules to deny VeryBadPeople new trials. A court that has become so reluctant to judge whether rights have been violated that it makes a tortoise stuck in its shell look like Evel Knievel.
So what do you do? Well 5 of them decided that his “request” wasn’t “a clear and unequivocal invocation” of his right to self-representation.
At this point, I’m just inclined to throw up my hands and say “I don’t even know anymore”. How can “he indicated now that he wishes to represent himself” not be a “clear and unequivocal invocation”?
I mean, surely there must be some rules in place to deal with situations where unsophisticated defendants make fumbling assertions of their individual rights, much less so
clear and unequivocal?
Why yes, yes there are. Articulated by this very court, just last year in State v. Jordan:
Although a clear and unequivocal request is required, there is no standard form it must take. “[A] defendant does not need to recite some talismanic formula hoping to open the eyes and ears of the court to [that] request. Insofar as the desire to proceed pro se is concerned, [a defendant] must do no more than state his request, either orally or in writing, unambiguously to the court so that no reasonable person can say that the request was not made. . . . Moreover, it is generally incumbent upon the courts to elicit that elevated degree of clarity through a detailed inquiry. That is, the triggering statement in a defendant’s attempt to waive his right to counsel need not be punctilious; rather, the dialogue between the court and the defendant must result in a clear and unequivocal statement.”
Ask the damn question. If a lawyer or defendant tells you he wants to represent himself, how long does it take to ask him a few questions? Really? Why is everything a game?
Chief Justice Rogers, who wrote Jordan, dissents in Pires [PDF] saying essentially the same thing she said before: that requests for self-representation can be made through counsel and that this is as clear as they come.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that the die has long been cast. The lasting legacy of the “Rogers court” will be their systematic destruction of modes of review. For those who don’t know what I mean, I’m referring to the methods by which appellate courts, whose job it is to ensure that trials were conducted fairly and according to the law and rules of court, determine whether that was done.
If improper evidence was admitted, a new trial may be warranted. If Due Process was violated, a new trial may be warranted. If a judge or lawyer makes a mistake that results in the violation of rights, remedies must be issued. We used to value the protections built into our system more than we valued the result. But now, we value procedure over all else.
So if you are on trial and the judge admits some very improper and damaging evidence against you, evidence that the jury should have under no circumstances heard or considered, and your lawyer didn’t object either because she was asleep or frenzied or scared or incompetent, our appellate courts will refuse to remedy that wrong, because proper procedure wasn’t followed.
It’s akin to doctors refusing to perform surgery because there isn’t a signature on the requisition form for the lightbulbs that are in the operating room.
There is a silver lining, though: maybe someday soon the Court will start to get it. There are fresh faces on the court and more to come. Maybe people will start to realize how narrow appellate review has become. That maybe elevating finality and form over substance has negative consequences for society as a whole.
Well, if not, then we can always go have a drink at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
That day, I received a crash course in not how our judicial system works (because honestly, after serving two weeks on a criminal trial jury I still don’t know), but rather in how it behaves. There are gangs in the courthouse, just like on the streets. There are strategies. There are plans. There are rules to keep others of all kinds in their place. And there are loopholes to those rules from which, if you’re smart and know how to play the game, and don’t mind losing a few friends and perhaps piece of your soul along with them, you could profit by squeezing through.
Gerry walked into the courthouse somewhat of an idealist and instead left fully aware the system works not on grand notions of truth and justice but rather on the individual perceptions and agendas of everyone with a dog in the fight – and mostly those who don’t have one: jurors.
It is rare for attorneys to get inside the minds of jurors so when one chooses to share his/her experiences with the world, it’s a learning moment and, in this case, a fantastic read.
The case was about a guy selling crack to an undercover officer and it seems by Walker’s account that there wasn’t proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
And then he went to deliberate and his life turned into a version of 12 Angry Men:
As was expected, much debate ensued between those with opposing views. I disagreed with the foreperson’s statements several times in the next hours and could see in her eyes that she did not like me. But that was cool. No one is required to like me. But then something happened that changed me for the rest of the trial. As one woman attempted to explain her reasoning behind voting ‘Not Guilty’, the foreperson, who frequently talked over others and finished their sentences (until I invited her to cease), threw her hands up and said:
“See? This is just how O.J. got off!”
And that was it. That’s when Walker realized that, in America, justice is a game. That no matter what the judge tells you and what you’re fed on the nightly news and through rags that you read, it’s about what you feel in your gut. People disregard jury instructions and vote their conscience based on their life experiences. That people are emotional and no matter how strongly we chastise them to leave those emotions behind, they simply can’t:
So in front of everyone, I asked her:
“Have you ever found yourself in a situation where if somebody else had walked onto the scene, you might have appeared to be doing something that could send you to jail?”
Because I, Gerald Thomas Walker, have. More than once. Where I’m from in inner-city Cleveland, it is quite easy to end up in suspect situations even when you’ve done nothing wrong. And as far as “reasonable doubt” is concerned, as humans we all harbor varying views of exactly what that is, based upon our life experiences, where we’re from and what we’ve been through, what we’ve seen and done, and what has been done to us. I was hoping that the other jurors would empathize with me here, and they did.
How about an excellent question for voir dire there?
The bottom line, as far as I can tell, is this: think like a juror. Think about who you want on your jury. Think about how evidence will affect jurors and how they will see things. Jurors aren’t the most sophisticated in the law, but they are adamant about what they know and what that means.
Right on the heels of my post last week1 about a North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling holding that the state’s social media ban for sex offenders was unconstitutional, a judge right here in the idyllic town of Vernon, CT2 has apparently ordered a man to stay off the internet for the entire period of his 10 year probation.
Just, all of it. No emails, no Youtube, no Facebook, no Facebook, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Tumblr or Kickstarter or whatever the hell these kids are watching these days. Heck, no New York Times or CNN or Hartford Courant or WhiteHouse.Gov or SignThisEPetition.Com or whatever the web will become in 4 years’ time which is when he will get out of jail3.
Gregory Lindsey was sentenced to 10 years, suspended after 4 years in jail, followed by 10 years probation for possession of child pornography in the second degree, which is a subject I wrote about just the other day.
Lindsey would send messages to the people in the Philippines “soliciting children to engage in specific sex acts,” and would choose which children and which adults he preferred, and which acts he wanted them to perform, [prosecutor] Leaming said.
Okay, so probably not the strangest sexual fetish, but sure to make many people, myself included, pretty squeamish.
But, as Popehat just wrote, it’s easier to accept that everyone has First Amendment rights if you go in expecting not to like any of the participants.
Let’s go back to that North Carolina opinion to gather some pertinent First Amendment law regarding, you know, just banning someone from the internet:
The statute plainly involves defendant’s First Amendment rights as incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment because it bans the freedom of speech and association via social media. “[A] statute regulating the time, place and manner of expressive activity is content-neutral in that it does not forbid communication of a specific idea.”
I suspect that the same would apply to the judge’s order, even thought not a legislative statute. Moving on:
[The statute] is content neutral because it restricts access to commercial social networking Web sites without any reference to the content or type of speech disseminated or posted thereon. See Turner Broad. Sys. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 641-42 (1994). Content-neutral regulations are subject to intermediate scrutiny: they must be both “narrowly tailored to achieve a significant governmental interest” and “leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.” Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (1989).
I’m no First Amendment expert, but I find it hard to see how a blanket ban on accessing the entire internet can be said to be “narrowly-tailored” (that other part – significant governmental interest – I think is given).
Some have made the argument that perhaps his status as a probationer would distinguish the situation from those cited in the prior post. I think that might make it a closer question, but ultimately it depends on the kind of ban the judge imposed. Two articles on the sentence seem to imply that the ban was unconditional and for the entirety of the probationary period.
A brief survey of cases in other jurisdictions reveals that while bans on internet use while on probation have been upheld, they have been upheld only where it was conditional, allowing access to the internet with approval of the probation officer and if only for a short period of time. Consider U.S. v. Heckman in the Third Circuit:
We first upheld a conditional ban on Internet access in United States v. Crandon, 173 F.3d 122 (3d Cir.1999)… Crandon’s ban was both limited (to three years) and conditional (subject to exceptions approved by the Probation Office).
Four years later, we refused to uphold a more restrictive, five-year ban in United States v. Freeman, 316 F.3d 386 (3d Cir. 2003). There the defendant’s offense did not include the direct exploitation of a minor. Instead, it involved the distribution of child pornography by a convicted child molester. The District Court imposed a special condition that was both lengthier (five years rather than three years) and more restrictive (adding a ban on computer equipment in the defendant’s residence to a conditional Internet ban).
Applying their logic, the Circuit rejected an unconditional lifetime ban in Heckman. The closest the Second Circuit – which would be relevant in Connecticut – has comes seems to be U.S. v. Johnson, 446 F.2d 272 (2nd Cir. 2006).
In the case of an offender who had downloaded and disseminated child pornography through the Internet, an outright ban was held to be more restrictive than needed to serve the sentencing goals of rehabilitation and incapacitation because a combination of monitoring and unannounced inspections would exert the control of an Internet ban while allowing an offender access to the Internet for legitimate purposes. See United States v. Sofsky, 287 F.3d 122, 126-27 (2d Cir.2002); see also United States v. Cabot, 325 F.3d 384, 386 (2d Cir.2003) (vacating an Internet ban after the government conceded that it could not stand under Sofsky); United States v. Peterson, 248 F.3d 79, 82-84 (2d Cir.2001) (vacating a computer and Internet ban, reasoning that, inter alia, “t]here [was] no indication that Peterson’s past incest offense had any connection to computers or to the Internet.”).
As the Seventh Circuit observed in United States v. Holm, 326 F.3d 872, 878 (7th Cir.2003), courts in similar contexts have recognized the importance of considering whether a defendant made “outbound use of the Internet to initiate and facilitate victimization of children.” Compare United States v. Paul, 274 F.3d 155, 169 (5th Cir.2001) (upholding prohibition where the defendant had used the Internet to provide advice to others on how to find and obtain access to “young friends”), and United States v. Crandon, 173 F.3d 122, 127-28 (3rd Cir.1999) (upholding prohibition where the defendant had used the Internet to “develop an illegal sexual relationship with a young girl over a period of several months”), with United States v. Freeman, 316 F.3d 386, 391-92 (3rd Cir. 2003) (vacating prohibition where the defendant was convicted of receipt of child pornography, and noting that “the defendant in Crandon [by comparison] had used the Internet to contact young children and solicit inappropriate sexual contact with them. Such use of the Internet is harmful to the victims contacted and more difficult to trace than simply using the Internet to view pornographic web sites”), and Holm, 326 F.3d at 874, 879 (vacating prohibition on use of any computer with Internet capability by a defendant convicted of possession of child pornography). We therefore affirm the imposition of the absolute Internet ban as it has been crafted in this case.
Like the other circuits, it seems that there is no outright ban on such bans, but they are generally upheld more frequently when they are for a limited time period, with some internet access permissible and the offender isn’t someone who has had sexual intercourse with a minor he met over the internet.
Connecticut’s Supreme Court has never considered this issue, as far as I can tell. The closest they’ve come is State v. Stephens. In Stephens, they were asked to rule that a condition of probation banning the possession of “any sexually stimulating material deemed inappropriate by a probation officer”, which depending on the probation officer could be a picture of freckled elbows.
As is their habit, they declined to review the claim, stating repeatedly that they could only rule it unconstitutional if a First Amendment challenge were mounted, which it was not, for reasons that are unknown to me. So they have never had to confront the First Amendment implications of blanket internet bans.
Since a guilty plea by Mr. Lindsey waives all non-jurisdictional defects, I don’t think they’ll be asked to do so in this case, but what do you think? Is such a ban Constitutional? Should it be? Should there be any restrictions on internet use by sex offenders?
H/T: Gerard W.
In doing the math for this post on the rate of success in the CT Supreme Court, I ran across this opinion, again by the Chief Justice, in the matter of State v. William Brabham [PDF]. It’s one of those opinions that’s a slow boil, so I put it on the backburner, until my outrage was sparked again1 by this recent opinion from the CT Appellate Court in Saksena v. Commissioner [PDF].
If you needed more proof of the fact that our “Constitutional rights” are but a mirage, provenanced from the goodwill of those entrusted with the enforcement and application of those rights. They are more grants of favor by judges than inexorable and inimical fundamental rights.
How else would you explain the frequency and ease with which violations of these fundamental rights are dispensed with, overlooked and excused?
Take, for example, the aforementioned Brabham. Brabham was, to be sure, a lout. He was also an absconder. He wasn’t, shall we say, the most honest person. He was charged with larceny and burglary, so he decided to do what seemed logical: run. Then:
After the jury returned its verdict, but before sentencing, the defendant posted bond and fled to London, England. As a result, the defendant failed to appear for sentencing on September 22, 2000. He later was rearrested and returned to Connecticut. The defendant’s sentencing was set for March 26, 2004, but before that date, he once again posted bond and fled to London, England, and again, did not appear for sentencing. The defendant again was rearrested, and on November 18, 2008, he was sentenced to a total effective sentence of fifteen years imprisonment. This appeal followed.
On appeal, he claimed, among other things, that the State had failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the judge had failed to properly instruct jurors. So these arguments, if successful, would undermine the reliability of the conviction, implicating due process.
But he ran. And we don’t like people who run. And the fact of his running apparently outweighs the reality of his conviction being unconstitutional. There is such a thing as the fugitive disentitlement doctrine.
What it means, basically, is that if you’re charged by the State and a jury convicts you, no matter how erroneously or unlawfully, your illegal, tainted conviction will stand because fuck you. No one shows up the State and gets away with it.
Keep in mind that Brabham wasn’t on the lam when this appeal was heard: he was in custody serving an obscenely inflated sentence2. There is an argument to be made that a defendant who is on the run isn’t entitled to an appeal while he’s on the run. Fair. I disagree in principle, but in effect, I might be inclined to agree. This is not that case. Here, he’s in the State, sentenced to an outrageous sentence (see footnote 3 above).
The court listed the 43 rationales for “fugitive disentitlement”. They are:
(1) the judgment on review may be impossible to enforce because the prisoner has escaped, (2) the prisoner’s escape disentitles him to call upon the resources of the [c]ourt for determination of his claims, (3) dismissal will [discourage] the felony of escape and [encourage] voluntary surrenders, and (4) dismissal will [promote] the efficient, dignified operation of the courts.
The court rejects the first three rationales and instead adopts the FDD for that fourth reason “efficient, dignified operation” of the courts.
Seriously. Are you laughing yet? I don’t even know what that means. The court then makes up some nonsense about how since he was gone for so long, a few exhibits went missing so they can’t rule on whether the state actually proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of breaking into some dude’s office. Seriously. Do you see what we have to deal with here in Connecticut?
[Yes, okay, he shouldn't run. Yes, okay, there has to be some disincentive. But those rationales were rejected by the Court.]
But that’s not all. That merely brings us to Saksena v. Commissioner, which I mentioned above. That’s a habeas corpus case in which the opinion lists the only claim as being that he was not properly advised of immigration consequences pursuant to Padilla v. Kentucky. Until you look at the footnotes4. Footnote 1 says:
The petitioner also claims that the habeas court erred when it proceeded to trial without him present in contravention of his due process rights guaranteed by the sixth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution and article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution, Practice Book § 23-40, and General Statutes § 52-470. For reasons set forth in this opinion, we conclude that any error by the habeas court in proceeding to trial without the petitioner present was harmless.
My laughter has turned to tears. In case you don’t get the irony in this, let me spell it out for you.
Habeas Corpus is Latinese for… you have the body. It is a Latin phrase literally commanding the warden to present the physical body of the petitioner and answer why his conviction is legal.
I swear to God sometimes I think I’m living inside an Onion article. In Saksena, he was transferred to ICE custody for deportation purposes and was held in MA. They’d transport him to CT for his trial if the CT judge ordered it, but the CT judge refused to do so5. So, Saksena’s “bring the body” trial was held without the body.
And of course, the Constitutional violation doesn’t matter because he was guilty anyway.
Just as important as efforts on the federal level, however, are criminal justice reforms we can and should implement here at home. The number of prisoners held in Connecticut’s facilities has, for a number of reasons, dropped from all-time highs in 2007 and 2008, but those levels are still high considering the drop in violent crime that’s occurred over the past decade. Also, the parole reforms enacted after the Cheshire murders in 2007 have contributed to the reversal of recent declines in prison population, meaning fewer prisoners are being released.
That’s accurate, with some recent reporting by The CT Mirror showing that numbers have gone up and overcrowding is a problem again, driven in large part by “reforms” to parole laws. Susan argues that in the next legislative session, we should “reform” mandatory-minimums or, better yet, do away with them altogether.
There’s nothing to reform. Mandatory-minimums are a dangerous power to give to prosecutors. The results of that power being wielded in a heavy-handed way are evident in the war on drugs. It’s taken decades for the Attorney General of the United States to recognize that mandatory-mininum sentences have a terribly disproportionate impact on racial minorities.
In Connecticut, mandatory-minimums apply if you’re selling drugs within 1500 feet of a school or public housing project. Repeated efforts over the last few years to reduce that “drug-free zone” to 200 or 300 feet have failed.
Take a guess as to who is most impacted by this mandatory-minimum sentence2? You know where you can’t stand without being within 1500 feet of a school or public housing project? That’s right. Connecticut’s urban cities (that’s a post from 2007, by the way. We’ve been dithering over this common sense reform for six fucking years).
Mandatory-minimums are also dangerous because they are a chain that binds the hands of judges who seek to do justice and are a weapon in the hands of prosecutors who want to be unreasonable and unjust.
In Connecticut, prosecutors determine the charges to be filed and pursued. A judge, short of dismissal of a charge for legal reasons, cannot alter the charges filed by a prosecutor. Judges, on the other hand, can indicate a sentence they would impose, which can differ from a prosecutor’s recommended sentence.
So let’s say that a judge thinks an assault charge is worth a prison sentence of two years; the victim doesn’t want to the defendant to go to jail and there is no real long-term injury to any party. The defendant is a young man, with little or no criminal record and the state’s case is iffy at best.
But a gun was used in the assault, so the prosecutor charges Assault in the First Degree, which carries a mandatory sentence of 5 years. Now, no one thinks that a 5-year sentence is appropriate, except the prosecutor, but no one can do anything about it, including the judge and/or victim. Maybe the prosecutor doesn’t like the defendant, maybe she doesn’t like the defense lawyer, maybe she doesn’t like the judge or doesn’t like the system. Who knows.
But the point is that the prosecutor can hijack “fairness” in the process by “sticking” on a mandatory-minimum.
Mandatory-minimums are set by the legislature, based on
precise calculations made using actuarial tables and deep meditation pulling numbers out of their ass. Most don’t have any experience in the day-to-day operation of the criminal justice system and base their ideas of “justice” and “fairness” on fairytales Law and Order. To be fair, when we’re resolving cases, we also pull numbers out of our ass, but at least our asses are attuned to the range of widely accepted resolutions.
But legislators, in someone’s infinite wisdom, have selected arbitrary numbers and have decreed not only maximum punishments, but also minimum punishments, sometimes in abject disregard for the realities of the criminal justice system.
Eliminating mandatory-minimums would do only one thing: eliminate the minimum. It would do nothing to the maximum. But it would allow judges the flexibility of making fair determinations of the appropriate sentence to be imposed, not hindered by an over-charging prosecutor. If a case is “worth” 2 years, a defendant should get a sentence of 2 years. But if a case is worth 8 years, he will get 8 years. Eliminating mandatory-minimums does nothing to alter that possibility.
Instead of a range of 5-20 years, the range simply becomes 0-20 years and a judge is free to sentence anywhere between those two numbers.
Finally, as I’ve said before, CT’s mandatory-minimum scheme has a weird interaction with its juvenile sentencing scheme, resulting in 14 year old children being tried in adult court as adult criminals and sentenced to mandatory ten years in jail. Juveniles – children – are different than the rest of us. The science is incontrovertible and established and even the United States Supreme Court has acknowledged this distinction. They deserve a second chance. While states across the country are considering altering their laws to comply with the Supreme Court, a bipartisan bill that would have done just that was defeated in the State legislature.
Because people are afraid:
“There seems to be some notion that mandatory minimum sentences make us safer and that moving away from them makes us less safe,” [State Rep. Gary] Holder-Winfield said, highlighting a stale leftover from the tough-on-crime rhetoric of the 1980s and 1990s. More people in prison doesn’t equal a safer or more just state, especially not when so many lives are being destroyed in the process.
People who commit crimes should be punished. But they should be punished fairly and proportionate to their crime. They should also be punished in a manner that is proportional to others who have committed similar crimes. They should also be punished in a manner taking into account their individual facts and circumstances.
Smart on crime means all of that. It means treating people as human beings. “Tough on crime” means being afraid of everything that isn’t you and condemning vast numbers of people because you’re scared. Tough on crime is simply continuing the narrow-minded racist policies that got us where we are today: staggering numbers of children and low-level non-violent drug offenders serving significant prison sentences, while our jails burst at the seam, corrections swallows the largest portion of our state’s budget and a trail of destroyed lives and families in its wake.
It’s time to stop being stupid on crime and start being smart on it. Eliminating mandatory-minimums is a step in the right direction.