Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jun 2002
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The Buffalo News
Author: Timothy W. Hoover
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


The News editorial "Justice denied," misses the real, pressing problems 
with the federal criminal justice system. The federal sentencing guidelines 
are fatally flawed. They handcuff judges from doing the right thing. They 
are unfair. But the unfairness usually is in the form of unduly harsh 
sentences, rather than short ones.

For every defendant who receives what some perceive as an unfairly short 
sentence, hundreds of defendants - usually minorities - are sent to prison 
for years in drug cases, usually involving possession of minute quantities 
of crack cocaine. These are often addicts who are drawn into a drug sale in 
order to make quick money to feed this addiction. Because of the harsher 
treatment that crack receives as opposed to powder cocaine, these addicts 
are warehoused in federal prisons instead of given the treatment, 
counseling and educational and vocational programs they need.

The unfairness is not limited to drug cases. Dozens of Western New Yorkers 
are prosecuted in federal court for nonviolent gun possession crimes, under 
the guise of Project Exile. Besides being a questionable use of federal 
power and money, the results are not worth the effort, as violent crime in 
Buffalo continues to rise.

The editorial was also inaccurate and unfair. "Acceptance of 
responsibility" is a recognized term in federal sentencing, and is a valid 
reason why the sentences of defendants who plead guilty are usually shorter 
than for those who go to trial. And prosecutors cannot prevent a defendant 
from pleading guilty.

While reasonable people can disagree over the priorities and decisions made 
by federal prosecutors, the editorial's ridicule of the professional 
prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office was unjustified.

There are compelling stories to be told about the unfairness of federal 
sentencing guidelines and the ineffective use of federal resources against 
low-level drug addicts and nonviolent gun crimes. The News should 
accurately, thoroughly and fairly investigate and report those stories.

Timothy W. Hoover

Assistant Federal Defender, Western District of New York
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