Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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Even a judge finds mandatory minimums unjust

We like to think of judges as all-powerful. Throughout the United States, every day, thousands of judges sit in judgment of thousands of cases. Some are jury trials, where they may act more as referee, but in all cases, the exercise tremendous discretion, that can fundamentally shape the outcome of a case.

The federal judiciary is cloaked in power in part due to their lifetime appointments. Once named to the federal bench, a judge may serve the rest of their life; "senior" judges may continue a reduced workload long after most people have retired. 

They often do this out of a sense of duty and of serving their country, and many show as much courage as men and women do in the military, and they are just as important to the survival of the nation, often forcing the nation to deal with matters it's legislature lacked the willingness to deal with complex and painful issues.

So it is disheartening to read the story of a federal district court judge who is considering resigning due to the unrelenting nature of sentences in drug cases, where many cases strip the judge of all judgment and discretion, and because of mandatory minimums, place sentences on individuals where even the judge is lamenting the injustice.

The unintended consequences of the "drug war" have been many and varied, but the disaster of mandatory minimums, created by Congress fit of panic, have failed by virtually every measure, yet many remain in place, held by institutional lethargy and an inability to grasp that prison time costs far more than the price of incarceration per inmate and has virtually no positive effect on persons addicted to drugs.

Source: washingtonpost.com, "Against his better judgment," Eli Saslow, June 6, 2015

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