Federal Sentencing Guidelines

I’m posting a fascinating essay on mandatory minimum sentencing. For years I taught a course called The Philosophy of Punishment, and I have also written on Montesquieu’s views regarding punishment. Senators Hatch and Kennedy worked together back in the 80s to give us mandatory minimum sentencing, and, recently, the results have been sharply criticized across the political spectrum, from Rand Paul to the current Democrat administration. Some federal judges have resigned to avoid having to hand down what they regard as excessively punitive sentences, and the judge profiled in this article has considered that possibility. Prior to the eighties, judges’ discretion in federal sentencing was the favored policy, and possibly those days will return. As for Montesquieu, he said: “Severity in penalties suits despotic government, whose principle is terror, better than monarchies and republics, which have honor and virtue for their spring.” He also said that people’s “imagination becomes inured” to harsh punishments, and they therefore fail to deter any better than more moderate penalties. He favored giving judges some sentencing discretion in monarchies, but thought that in republics the punishments should be mandated by law, leaving juries only the power to convict or acquit and the judge only the power to conduct the trial. We have gone down that republican road, but it seems we have carried mandatory minimum sentencing to a counterproductive extreme. Here is the link to the Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/06/06/against-his-better-judgment/

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