Stop excessive bail and excessive sentences

Jul 07, 2010 Stop excessive bail and excessive sentences

I often hear people, including criminal defense colleagues, rallying around candidates for judges and chief prosecutors. Rarely do I hear talk in such promotions, and during confirmation hearings, about the extent to which the judge will be overly harsh with setting bonds and setting sentences. 

Criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, too many presumed-innocent defendants are caged pretrial, due to laws presuming no bail pretrial, judges simply giving no bond, or both. I even had a client whose bond was revoked on his then-pending drunk driving case merely because he was arrested a few weeks later for the same charge, even though he was still presumed innocent and even though I strenuously objected particularly to there having been an absence of any live witnesses at the bond revocation hearing and an absence of much facts even to support probable cause for the new arrest. 

Some may feel that sentences no higher than the maximum allowed are in line with the oversimplified claim that "If you do the crime, you do the time." However, we already know from the many people exonerated from death row that many people are wrongfully convicted of doing the crime. I think most people also would agree that a person caught with one marijuana cigarette in his pocket, with no prior criminal record, should not be slammed with a one-year sentence. 

A recent Washington Post article underlines how harsh some sentences can get. Although I do not know enough about the facts surrounding the sentence nor whether the defendant had prior criminal convictions, the Post article talks about a man sentenced to two years in prison for training a laser light on a police helicopter searching for a robbery suspect. His lawyer asserted that the act had been immature and possibly related to alcohol. 

Before starting my criminal defense practice, I was more obsessed with free expression protection and death penalty abolition than on rampant shredding of other rights in the criminal courts. Shortly after starting criminal defense work, my obsession with criminal defense rights took at least the same urgency as my obsession with free expression rights and abolishing the death penalty.

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