Sunday, November 28, 2004
Editorial: Don't hamstring judges in doing their jobs
'Tough-on-crime' mandates may suit politicians, but justice often requires judicial discretion.
From the RoundTable blog
Read the latest entries
Fortunately, legislators followed such sound reasoning during a recent hearing when a state legislative committee defeated an ill-conceived proposal that would have tied judges' hands in administering justice to embezzlers. The restraint that lawmakers showed in defeating a mandatory minimum penalty for a white-collar crime should be applied to other crimes as well.
Too often, consumed by get-tough-on-crime zeal, the public - and its legislative representatives - wants to establish firm mandates that allow judges little discretion in considering an appropriate penalty that fits the crime.
Mandatory minimum penalties too often reflect less justice than vengeance, which can inflict more hardship than rehabilitation on powerless defendants and their families.
Drawing inspiration from the case of Sid Clower, the ex-Henry County administrator convicted of embezzlement, Del. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Henry County, sponsored a bill creating tougher sentences for government officials who steal public money.
Fortunately, lawmakers rejected the proposal by an 11-9 vote. They understood that rubber-stamping the proposal would hamstring judges, requiring them to impose blanket punishment rather than considering the circumstances of each case and meting out an appropriate penalty.
Rather than trying to impose tough penalties after a government official has broken the public trust, lawmakers should enact laws that would prevent such malfeasance.
A system of rigorous auditing checks and balances would better serve the public than one-size-fits-all penalties.
The committee's vote signals that some lawmakers understand the value of granting a judge flexibility. That understanding should extend to non-white-collar crimes as well.