Nation - ABA opposes mandatory minimums

"Mandatory minimum sentencing announces as a policy that we are utterly uninterested in the full nature or circumstances of the defendant's crime," stated the American Bar Association in testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission last week.

Speaking on behalf of the ABA, James E. Felman, co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section Committee on Sentencing, emphasized the association's support of the Sentencing Commission's long-standing opposition to mandatory minimum sentences and urged it to continue its "unwavering opposition" to them. In his remarks, Felman pointed to the fact that the prison rate of the United States is between five and eight times higher than countries in Western Europe and 12 times higher than Japan. Felman also mentioned the average federal sentence in the United States having tripled in length since the advent of mandatory minimum sentences 25 years ago.

Mandatory minimum sentences are the "antithesis of rational sentencing policy," said Felman, because they completely disregard the "nature and circumstances of the offense, the history and characteristics of the defendant, the defendant's role in the offense" and other related aspects of the offense.

"To satisfy the basic dictates of fairness, due process and the rule of law, sentences should be both uniform among similarly situated offenders and proportional to the crime that is the basis of the conviction," stated Felman. "Mandatory minimum sentences are inconsistent with these twin commands of justice."

Felman continued by explaining that mandatory minimum sentencing laws have led to excessively severe sentences, arbitrary sentences and have produced the very sentencing disparities that determinate sentencing was intended to eliminate. "Because punishment as a practical matter is now determined by charging decisions made by prosecutors, judges no longer have the ability to individualize sentences or impose the minimum sanction that is consistent with the gravity of the actual offense conduct," furthered Felman.

In addition to being co-chair of the Committee on Sentencing, Felman is past co-chair of the ABA Commission on Corrections and Sentencing. He is in private practice engaged in federal criminal defense law in Tampa, Fla. Felman is listed in The Best Lawyers in America for non-white-collar criminal defense, white-collar criminal defense and appellate law, and in Leading American Attorneys for criminal defense law.

Felman's entire testimony is posted online.

Published: Tue, Jun 1, 2010