WASHINGTON, March 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Saying that mandatory minimums are a
"one-way ratchet upwards" and cannot "satisfy the basic dictates of fairness,"
Judge Patricia Wald, testifying on behalf of the American Bar Association,
raised a host of concerns about such sentencing practices in testimony before
an Organization of American States Commission that is examining the issue.
"There is no question that crimes must be punished and that prison serves
a legitimate...purpose, but only if it is proportionate," said Wald, adding
"unduly long and punitive sentences are counter-productive, and candidly many
of our mandatory minimums approach the cruel and unusual level as compared to
other countries as well as to our own past practices."
Wald noted that mandatory minimums lead to an array of problems,
* "Arbitrary" sentences that focus on "offense characteristics" instead of
the offender and the actual crime.
* "Disparities that determinate sentencing was intended to eliminate"
because so much of the sentencing is now determined by charging
decisions, or by a form of drug involved in a crime.
* "Unchecked power" by prosecutors that Wald says, "dangerously disturbs
the balance between the parties in an adversarial system, and deprives
defendants of access to an impartial decisionmaker in the all-important
area of sentencing."
Wald tied congressional moves to force mandatory minimums to a range of
policy decisions that, "in the aggregate, produced a steady, dramatic and
unprecedented increase in the population of the nation's prisons and jails,"
despite a decrease in the number of serious crimes committed in the past
And she noted that this rise had led to many other consequences, including
an increase in women in prison. "A person with sympathetic mitigating factors
based on background, family status or community ties would receive the same
punishment as a hardened criminal," Wald explained.
The ABA has long opposed mandatory minimum sentencing. Following a 2003
speech to the ABA in which U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony
Kennedy called mandatory minimums "unwise or unjust," the ABA established a
commission to investigate the state of sentencing and corrections in the
United States and adopted additional policy designed to serve as a blueprint
Wald, retired chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit and former judge at the International Criminal
Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, concluded by saying that she was "saddened
to see that the sentences imposed on war crimes perpetrators responsible for
the deaths and suffering of hundreds of innocent civilians often did not come
near those imposed in my own country for dealing in a few bags of illegal
With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association 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.
SOURCE American Bar Association