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October 13, 2020

Reviewing again how mandatory minimums impact (and distort) the federal sentencing system

76bccecd-3c06-4fae-867c-81fb321fb9c6-IMG_1828In this post from last month, back when we were focused on "whos," I highlighted some data on mandatory minimums in the federal sentencing system.  Back then, we were talking somewhat generally about how prosecutors garner sentencing power from mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.  Now that we are working through the sentencing of Rob Anon, we can focus with even greater particularity on how one of these statutes, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), can operate to put federal prosecutors into a powerful position in the application of all facets of the federal sentencing system.

Notably, way back in 1991, only a few years into the functioning federal sentencing guideline system, the US Sentencing Commission wrote this lengthy report explaining why mandatory minimums undermined many of the goals of guideline reforms.  And in 2011, the Sentencing Commission wrote another lengthy report detailing lots of problems with mandatory minimums in operation.  And yet, mandatory minimums persist in the federal system.  And this USSC Quick Facts details that the number of § 924(c) offenders has grown considerably in recent years.

If you are interested in some background on, and lot of information about litigation surrounding, 924(c) offenses, this 2015 Congressional Research Service report is effective.  And this 2020 Firearm Primer from the USSC also has some coverage of 924(c) caselaw.  Feel no obligation to review these long documents, but do take note of how much law surrounds just one small part of a federal sentencing system now filled with law.

UPDATE: Especially because we are going to focus on prosecutoral power in conjunction with one federal firearm law, I found this new Columbus Dispatch article especially interesting and timely.  The piece is headlined "Harsher federal charges to be sought to help combat deadly Columbus gun violence," and here are excerpts (with my bolding added):

U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said Wednesday he hoped to bring "shock and awe" to criminals committing gun violence on Columbus streets with a focused effort on getting harsher sentences for those who have firearms illegally.  "We want this to be a warning, we want this to be a shock and awe to the people committing these violent crimes and firearm offenses," he said.

The effort will focus on two Columbus neighborhoods that have been hot zones for gun violence — Linden and the Hilltop — and on charging defendants in federal court with crimes that have harsher sentences than what state law can provide.

The federal prosecutor announced the initiative Wednesday alongside partners Columbus police Chief Thomas Quinlan, Roland Herndon, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Columbus field office; Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and City Attorney Zach Klein.  The announcement occurred as The Dispatch completed the final day Wednesday of a four-part series on the rising gun violence in the city.

Herndon said of the 126 homicides this year in Columbus as of mid-afternoon Wednesday, 100 have been the result of gunfire and 18% of those have been juveniles. He said there have been an additional 440 non-fatal shootings in 2020. "Our youth, our future," Herndon said. "We cannot stand for that anymore."...  Authorities will not seek federal charges against juveniles, but will aim to charge any adults that provide them with guns.

The initiative will involve dedicated attorneys from the city attorney, county prosecutor and U.S. Attorney's offices focusing on identifying convicted felons in possession of firearms, those providing guns to juveniles in order to commit crimes, possessing weapons with filed-off serial numbers, and other firearms offenses, such as misdemeanor domestic violence offenders possessing guns.

Klein said his office has seen a 250% increase in the number of domestic violence cases involving firearms. “Gun violence in our community is creating fear, ruining lives, and in far too many situations, taking lives," he said in a prepared statement later. “Think about the innocent bystanders, especially children, whose lives change in an instant due to gunfire and violence."

DeVillers said his office will be freezing work on other types of cases, such as immigration and white-collar crime, to focus on firearms crimes and violence. "We are going to take every single gun crime and federal violent crime we can take," he said. "It’s not bravado, it’s a warning."

O'Brien said he was "excited" and "thrilled" to be a part of the initiative, which can add additional prison time to sentences locally with the way crimes are charged in each court. "We will show the thugs on the street that we mean business," O'Brien said.

DeVillers said the program will be reevaluated every 90 days to see what is working and determine success, which will be measured in part by decreases in shootings and homicides. 

October 13, 2020 in Class activities, Guideline sentencing systems, Who decides | Permalink


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