Monday, December 10, 2007


Russell Clark was a federal judge when he called us in for a chat, more than a decade ago. He wanted to talk about drugs. Crack cocaine, to be specific.

Clark had to sentence several young gang members to federal prison for selling crack in Springfield. He had no say, no input in the sentences; federal sentencing guidelines called for specific punishments. If Clark pulled a downward deviation -- going below the guidelines -- the U.S. attorney would immediately appeal and a new judge would impose what the prosecutor wanted.

Clark was especially anguished because crack sentences were much harsher than those handed out for powder cocaine sales. It's still that way. Crack is a 100-to-one drug. Sell one ounce of crack, get the same sentence you would for selling 100 ounces of powder.

The judge thought the guidelines and crack sentences were wrong. He thought that what he was doing was madness. "But I have no choice," Clark said.

The world became a little less insane on Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges can use their discretion when issuing sentences. And the high court made it clear that harsher sentences for crack are wack.

Linda Greenhouse's piece in The New York Times is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the issue. The essence:
It is now clear that while judges should consult the guidelines, they are just one factor among others and do not carry any special weight. It is also clear that an appeals court must have a very good reason of its own to displace the trial judge’s judgment.
Russell Clark died in 2003. He would have enjoyed Monday's decisions.


Anonymous said...

They should've doubled them. Or better yet, make all forms of cocaine and meth carry life.

Then only the incredibly stupid would distribute or produce it.

I know I'm posting my thoughts in a world where tolerance and understanding rule the day, but the harsher the better in my book.

Larry Burkum said...

How about we just execute every criminal, no matter the offense? Run a red light, die. Cheat on your taxes, die. Sell cocaine, die.

Harsher the better, right?

Anonymous said...

Why not.

Let me ask you a question, oh wise Lib.

What's the difference between killing a baby using partial birth abortion techniques versus killing some worthless con?

BOTH ARE MURDER, you liberals simply prefer to kill those who have no voice.

Anonymous said...

Why do you assume it is "you liberals" who "prefer to kill" those with no voice? Most "liberals" do not "prefer to kill" anyone. They often do not support the government exerting authority over women's bodies, and they also often do not support the government killing adults. Many "conservatives" also support these ideas.

Anonymous said...

How about we just execute every criminal, no matter the offense?

The idea has merit! Think of how convenient it would be if we could go directly from arrest to execution, without all the messy Judicial stuff in the middle. Imagine! No judges, no juries. We'd save tons of time and money.

Yep. Sounds good to me!