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Sentencing Justice Update July 16, 2012

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Update from FAMM:

Last month was full of surprises and we couldn’t be happier! The first surprise came on June 21 when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with us that people who committed crack cocaine offenses before August 3, 2010, but were sentenced after that date, should be sentenced to the lower crack penalties passed in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The decision was music to our ears because, frankly, we weren’t sure the Court would side with us.

This is a victory for everyone who has continued to fight this issue since 1987. Congratulations to every attorney and public defender who never gave up. This decision is based on a lot of hard work in various District and Appellate courts to push for this change, as well as tireless advocacy by organizations across the country. To read the Court’s opinion in the case, Dorsey v. United States, click here.

The second big surprise from the Supreme Court arrived on June 25 when they decided that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional! The Court said the sentences violated the Constitution’s 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Their reasoning was that children are different than adults in important respects and judges couldn’t consider the juvenile’s “chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” as well as the offender’s “family and home environment” and “the circumstances of the offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct.” In other words, the mandatory life sentence was found to be unconstitutional because it didn’t allow a judge to sentence each person as an individual! That’s what we’ve been saying at FAMM for two decades! You can read the Court’s opinion in Miller v. Alabama here.

The last great surprise of the month came on June 26 when a Florida State judge threw out the 20-year mandatory prison sentence given to Ronald Thompson for firing two warning shots into the ground to protect his elderly friend. The judge ordered a new trial for Thompson and his immediate release from prison. This is an incredible case that highlights everything that is wrong with mandatory minimum sentences in general, and Florida’s mandatory 10-20-life sentences for gun violations, in particular. We’ve spent the last few months shining a spotlight on this law and how it is snaring people who have harmed no one yet are serving 20-year prison sentences.

You’ve got to read Ronald Thompson’s story to understand why we’re so passionate about changing this law. For Thompson, who has served three years and is 65-years-old, nearly blind, and in failing health, the chance for a new trial could be lifesaving — literally. And if the district attorney has a shred of compassion, she will not retry him. Stay tuned to see how that turns out! Until then, read the recent news reports about Thompson’s case, which frequently quote FAMM’s Florida project director, Greg Newburn, who is leaving no stone unturned in Florida as he fights to change this law!

Whether July will have as many happy surprises is yet to be seen, but who knows? The occasion of Independence Day (July 4th) is a great time for President Obama to grant “independence” to some deserving prisoners by commuting their sentences…




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