LBN’s Bob Donley reports that courts are taking small steps to change the legal system, but those small steps can add up to big changes.
In Arkansas, the Supreme Court will reconsider mandatory life sentences imposed on juvenile offenders. The Court is doing it retroactively, which means that fifty inmates now serving long sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles will be eligible for judicial review of their cases and might receive new, lighter sentences.
Donley notes that the Arkansas court ruled unanimously in the case of Alonzo Gordon, who was only seventeen when he was sentenced. Gordon got a sentence of life without parole, a standard sentence for a crime such as he committed. The Arkansas court now believes that such sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Mandatory sentencing rules are increasingly coming under scrutiny on several fronts, including a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. United States that struck down part of the Armed Career Criminal Act because its residual clause was too vague. There are currently more people in American jails than in the jails of any other country in the world. And, Donley points out, a disproportionate majority of them are minorities.
Recent federal government statistics show that U.S. attorneys successfully prosecuted 99% of their cases, primarily because of plea bargains resulting from minimum sentencing guidelines. Donley notes that this is a better conviction rate than Stalin or Khrushchev achieved in the former Soviet Union. Many leading criminal lawyers are calling for a review of mandatory sentencing laws. These laws cut down on street crime but also cut into America’s freedoms.
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