A look at harsh mandatory sentences

A Reuters story made the rounds on Facebook a few days ago, and I wanted to share it here. Quantarius Davis was involved in a series of armed robberies, and was sentenced in Federal court to almost 162 years- effectively a life sentence.  While his involvement in these serious offenses warrants severe punishment, it should be noted that he didn’t shoot anyone, and nobody was killed (although his codefendant got shot in the butt by a victim.)  Beyond that, Mr. Davis was only 19 years old, and has a learning disability and mental health disorder.  He was not the ringleader, and has no prior record.  His codefendants were sentences from 9 to 22 years.

What concerns me is that the court was not allowed to take these mitigating factors into consideration when entering sentence against him.  Mandatory sentencing provisions mandated that the judge sentence him so severely, without letting the court consider whether the punishment fit the crime.  I’m not saying that the punishment is not appropriate… I am saying that the court should be allowed to make a reasoned decision what is appropriate.  Legislators in their desire to appear tough on crime and to hamstring judges from disproportionately lenient sentences, have mandated heavy sentences without any judicial discretion for judges to be judges.

One thing I want to make clear- the article appears to attribute the harsh sentences to Florida’s generally harsh sentencing structure.  However, this case was handled in Federal Court, under Federal guidelines, and just happened to have happened in Florida.  Though he could have been looking at harsh sentences in Florida as well (his discharge of a firearm during a robbery triggers a 20 year man/min).

I just want to keep the issue of taking away judicial discretion as a troubling trend.  This kid is likely never getting out, and the recent decisions regarding juvenile life sentences won’t help him because he’s a year too old.  Examples abound, the first that springs to mind was the mandatory sentence on the Georgia 17-year-old and the 15-year-old with whom he engaged in oral sex.   That sentence was eventually reduced as disproportionate.

One response to “A look at harsh mandatory sentences

  1. Pingback: Bill Clinton Admits Error on Overreaching Mandatory Prison Sentences | crimcourts : A Criminal Law Blog

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