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.


Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future