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Ian McColgin
06-27-2015, 11:24 AM
[IMc - In this case, Scalia got at least a bit of the right point.]

Justice Scalia Just Took An Important Swing At Mandatory Minimums
ThinkProgress
BY AVIVA SHEN POSTED ON JUNE 26, 2015 AT 12:40 PM

Shortly after the Supreme Court formally legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the justices released another decision, Johnson v. United States, that could change thousands of lives of people serving long sentences in federal prison. A key provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which can lengthen sentences for people with “violent” criminal records who are caught with an illegal firearm, is unconstitutionally vague, the court ruled 8-1.

The 1984 law mandates a sentencing term of 15 years to life for firearms possession by people with either three convictions of “serious drug offenses” or “violent felonies.” But what exactly counts as a “violent felony” has remained an open-ended question. A “residual clause” in the definition of a violent felony allows prosecutors to enhance sentences for any crime that involves “conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” — even if the crime doesn’t actually involve violence.

In recent years, prosecutors have argued that drunk driving, attempted burglary, and failing to report for incarceration all count as “violent.” In the case of plaintiff Samuel James Johnson, possessing a sawed-off shotgun counted toward this record.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, joined by 5 justices and 7 in judgment, declaring that the vagueness of the violent felonies clause violates due process. The clause is so vague that this is the fifth time in seven years that the Supreme Court has been asked to clarify if a certain crime qualifies. This time, Scalia pushed for a broader consideration of the clause’s constitutionality.

While the ruling won’t automatically release everyone sentenced through this particular clause, it means many of the approximately 7,000 people serving ACCA-enhanced sentences will need to be re-sentenced. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, more than half of federal firearms offenders sentenced under the guidelines last year are black. The ACCA increased sentences on average from 59 months to 188 months.

Congress now has the option of passing an updated law with more specific language or operating under the more limited version of the law. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors will need to sort out how many current inmates could potentially be released early.

The court’s decision today, while dramatic, leaves intact the “serious drug offenses” provision of the law, which has been used to put petty drug dealers and addicts behind bars for life. In one particularly egregious case, “the ‘career criminal’ designation derived from three drug sales totaling less than $300 to an undercover agent over a three-week period in the late 1970.” The offender, Michael Mahoney, purchased a gun without realizing his career criminal status, and even reported it to law enforcement when it was stolen. He was sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years and, despite later misgivings expressed by his sentencing judge, died in prison.

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CWSmith
06-27-2015, 11:46 AM
Mandatory minimums deprive the judge of the authority to assess the true nature of the crime and what punishment is deserved. It's a bad concept and bad law.

skuthorp
06-27-2015, 05:13 PM
"The court’s decision today, while dramatic, leaves intact the “serious drug offenses” provision of the law, which has been used to put petty drug dealers and addicts behind bars for life. In one particularly egregious case, “the ‘career criminal’ designation derived from three drug sales totaling less than $300 to an undercover agent over a three-week period in the late 1970.” The offender, Michael Mahoney, purchased a gun without realizing his career criminal status, and even reported it to law enforcement when it was stolen. He was sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years and, despite later misgivings expressed by his sentencing judge, died in prison."

And on another thread we find a DH who loads and pumps a shotgun in a store and terrifies the staff is not breaking the law?

Captain Intrepid
06-27-2015, 06:28 PM
Mandatory minimums deprive the judge of the authority to assess the true nature of the crime and what punishment is deserved. It's a bad concept and bad law.

Mandatory minimum sentences are downright tyrannical.

CWSmith
06-27-2015, 06:47 PM
Mandatory minimum sentences are downright tyrannical.

They come from a belief that liberal judges are soft on crime and they do so when the USA has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. It's rubbish.

PhaseLockedLoop
06-27-2015, 06:48 PM
Was it Thomas in dissent?

Ian McColgin
06-27-2015, 07:03 PM
It's an interesting and narrow decision turning on the meaning of violence in past convictions. Only Alito dissented but Thomas appears to think the problem was with the practice of the mandatory minimum law, not with the law itself.

Baby steps.