George Will: The Sledgehammer Justice of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Post Date: December 29, 2013

(Washington Post) — Federal Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York says documents called “statements of reasons” are an optional way for a judge to express “views that might be of interest.” The one he issued two months ago is still reverberating.

It expresses his dismay that although his vocation is the administration of justice, his function frequently is the infliction of injustice. The policy of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has empowered the government to effectively nullify the constitutional right to a trial. As Lulzim Kupa learned.

Born to Albanian immigrants, he was convicted in 1999 and 2007 of distributing marijuana. Released from prison in 2010, he again engaged in trafficking, this time with enough cocaine to earn him charges involving a sentence of 10 years to life. On March 5, 2013, prosecutors offered this: In exchange for a guilty plea, he would effectively be sentenced within the range of 110 months to 137 months — but the offer would expire the next day. Kupa rejected the offer, so on March 15 prosecutors filed a “prior felony information,” a.k.a. an 851 notice, citing the two marijuana convictions. So, 10 days after saying a sentence of perhaps less than eight years (assuming good time credits) would be appropriate, prosecutors were threatening a sentence of life without parole. This gave him no incentive to plead guilty. (Read more)