Thursday, October 23, 2003

On mandatory minimum sentences

In U.S. v. Rice, the Fourth Circuit in a per curiam opinion for the panel of Chief Judge Wilkins, Judge Traxler, and Senior Judge Hamilton explained:

"We understand what the district court was trying to accomplish here. Rice was a relatively minor participant in the August 14, 2001 drug transaction and participated in this transaction not to make money but rather only to obtain some crack to fuel his unfortunate addiction to the drug. The district court understandably was compassionate, trying to give a break to an individual whom it deemed unworthy of a mandatory life sentence. The mandatory life sentence in this case may well reflect some of the inequities involved in the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences and any argument here is with the mandatory life sentence mandated and not with the compassionate rationale of the district judge. Indeed, mandatory minimum
sentences are designed to ensnarl the most culpable, but all too often they capture many who are considerably less culpable. Moreover, mandatory minimums often do not take into account the defendant’s role in the offense, which more accurately reflects the dangerousness and the culpability of the defendant. However, even though we may feel that the district court ultimately imposed a just sentence of 293 months’ imprisonment, we are not at liberty to disturb a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment that is consistent with the Sentencing Guidelines, the will of Congress, and the proportionality principles laid down by the Supreme Court and this court."

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