ABA Urges Congress to Reject Mandatory Minimum Sentences in House Gang Bill, Says Such Sentences “Thwart Justice”

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 11, 2005 — The _ today called on Congress to reject the mandatory minimum sentences included in H.R. 1279, the “Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005.” In a letter to members of the House of Representatives, the ABA said that, while it supports the goal of reducing gang crimes, the Association opposes mandatory minimum sentences on principle because they “thwart justice” and in many cases, “do not create the uniformity of punishment they were designed to achieve.”

The letter, from ABA Director of Government Affairs Robert Evans to members of the House, said, “Mandatory minimum sentences thwart justice. Such sentences, in many cases, do not create the uniformity of punishment they were designed to achieve.” Evans also noted that the disparities in sentencing under mandatory minimum sentencing systems tend to have a disproportionate impact on minorities, who are “more likely to be subjected to mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants.”

This disparity is a result of the fact that mandatory minimum sentences give prosecutors who are concerned about the justness of a particular mandatory sentence the discretion to decide to charge the defendant under a different stature, while the rulings of judges who wish to exercise similar discretion by issuing a reduced sentence are subject to appellate review.

“Under the federal guidelines system, judges who impose a sentence departing from the guidelines must still state their reasons for doing so ‘with specificity’ and in writing. Appellate review under a ‘reasonableness’ standard would then ensue. By contrast, prosecutorial and other decisions designed to avoid the effects of mandatory minimum sentences are insulated from public view and are not generally subject to appellate review. These judgments can lead to the dissimilar punishment of similar offenders, which is contrary to the mandatory minimum statutes and the federal sentencing guidelines,” said Evans.

Evans also noted the ABA’s concerns about provisions of the bill that would permit prosecutors to decide to try 16- and 17-year-old defendants in adult court without any judicial review of that decision. “It is the long held view of the ABA that only a small minority of juveniles should be transferred to adult court, and that the juvenile court judge is best situated to determine if a particular juvenile should be treated as an adult,” said Evans.

“While we share your concern over gang crime, the ABA is committed to establishing a stable and enduring juvenile justice system for our youth and our society. Youth are qualitatively different from adults, and a juvenile court that understands those differences is the best venue to address juvenile crime in most circumstances.”

With more than 400,000 members, the _ is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.

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