US District Judge John Gleeson in United States v. Dossie, No. 11-CR-237 (E.D.N.Y. March 30, 2012) did just that:
This case illustrates how mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases distort the sentencing process and mandate unjust sentences. In the substantial percentage of cases in which they apply, they produce a sentencing regime that is worse than the one the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was enacted to replace. They make opaque what that law was intended to make transparent. They strip criminal defendants of the due process rights we consider fundamental to our justice system. Most importantly, too many nonviolent, low-level, substance-abusing defendants like Jamel Dossie “lose their claim to a future” — to borrow a phrase from Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. — because lengthy mandatory prison terms sweep reasonable, innovative, and promising alternatives to incarceration off the table at sentencing.
There is no need for new legislation to remedy this state of affairs. The Attorney General himself has it within his power to remedy it. He can do so by
- citing to the ten-year mandatory minimum in an indictment only when the government intends to prove that the defendant occupied a leadership role that warrants a four-level upward adjustment under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(a);
- citing to the five-year mandatory minimum only when the government intends to prove a managerial role worthy of a three- or two-level upward adjustment under § 3B1.1(b) or (c); and
- withdrawing the mandatory minimum provision from the case (or reducing it, as the case may be) if the corresponding aggravated role has not been proven by the government or admitted by the defendant.
I respectfully urge the Attorney General to implement such a policy. It is a modest request. It asks only that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) refrain from dictating severe mandatory minimum penalties when it cannot prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was the kind of drug dealer for whom those penalties were enacted. By ensuring that the harsh, wooden mandatory minimum provisions are employed only in the circumstances to which Congress clearly intended to limit them, the government could reform an aspect of the criminal justice system that is in need of repair. The reform would promote transparency and accountability in sentencing and return to defendants the due process sentencing rights that are snuffed out in cases like this one. Finally, it would be consistent with the Attorney General’s public statements about how our criminal justice system ought to treat defendants like Dossie.
This seems to be over-stepping the bounds of the courts. I don’t know how I feel about a cout supplying a bulleted list of suggestions on how to charge defendants.
H/T Sentencing Blog