FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Federal Judge Quits, Assails Unjust Sentencing Guidelines

by ELAINE CASSEL

 

Federal Judge Quits in Disgust Judge John S. Martin, federal district court judge in New York City, is hanging up his robe and walking away from the bench. Thirteen years working in an unjust justice system has left the former prosecutor disappointed in how little good he could do for the criminal defendants who came before him for sentencing.

In an opinion piece in the June 24, 2003 New York Times, Martin despairs over mandatory sentencing guidelines, set by people–few of them judges–handpicked by Congress to implement draconian sentencing laws. Judges are not much more than bean counters at sentencing. Used to be that a defense attorney like myself spent a great deal of time and effort in putting facts before the judge at sentencing–facts that would convince the judge to tailor a sentence that would give the defendant something to live for, something to get out for.

Not anymore. Judges mostly have it all laid out for them in the guidelines. And when they deviate from the guidelines, it is usually because the prosecutor can prove that the defendant did something during the course of the prosecution that renders him deserving of an “upward enhancement” of his sentence. Even if a defendant pleads guilty, he could get time tacked on to his sentence for insisting on his right to counsel, or by refusing to plead at the time the government wanted him to do so.

Martin is particularly bitter about drug sentencing laws. For drug offenses, according to recent data, account for about 60% of federal prisoners. It is the harsh punishment for drug use and addiction that has driven up our incarceration rate to over 2 million men and women. We incarcerate more people for more crimes than any other country in the world.

And the sentencing is in the hands of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, behold to Congress, beholden to the President. Politics as usual.

The last straw for Martin came earlier this year when tucked into the Amber Alert legislation was a requirement that federal judges who deviate from the sentencing guidelines must report themselves to John Ashcroft.

And heavens know where that is going; it seems as if the errant judges are to be seen as naughty children who must report to their authoritarian father and await their punishment. You can’t obey John and at the same time use common sense or demonstrate compassion and decency. For all John’s talk of Christianity, he is one mean man when it comes to the weaknesses and suffering of others.

Last week the Supreme Court upheld a government regulation that allows prison wardens to sharply curtail visitation of inmates and, in some cases, to allow it not at all. We don’t want them to have anything to look forward to; we don’t want them to have anyone to love them. And Judge Martin notes how the harshness of sentencing laws falls heaviest on the families of the defendants

Martin did not have a reputation as an easy judge. In many cases he imposed maximum sentences, wishing he could have given more (in one case, he said he would have favored the death penalty had it been an option). But, he says, he is not in favor of sentencing without common sense or discretion. “I am not in favor of locking up everybody for life,” he says–and that puts him out of step with Congress, the White House, and Ashcroft’s Department of Injustice.

Martin says he may organize federal judges to lobby Congress for justice in sentencing. For now, though, he has had it with our “unjust criminal justice system.”

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia and teaches law and psychology. She is writing a book on civil liberties post 9/11, and keeps and keeps an eye on Bush and Ashcroft’s trampling on the Bill of Rights at her Civil Liberties Watch.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail