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I agree. We went on a “tough-on-crime” legislative spree in the 80’s and 90’s that left a legacy of budget-busting packed prisons that drain critical funding from education, infrastructure, and other needed things. The author was entirely correct that mandatory minimums shift the sentencing decision from the judge to the prosecutor; it just isn’t as public when a DA decides not to prosecute. They also serve to force innocent defendants to plea bargain; even if the evidence is on their side, their lawyers are obliged to point out jury trials are a crap shoot and going to trial could put them in prison for a huge multiple of a plea offer on the table. As we should have learned from all the DNA exonerations, innocent people can be charged and convicted of crimes. Prosecutors haven’t the resources to try every case and routinely over-charge cases, even if the evidence is too weak to get a likely conviction on the most serious charges (people have ended up on death row after rejecting a plea bargain for a couple year sentence.) They do this to force plea bargains; it gives them the latitude of offering to drop all but the least serious charge if the defendant will give up his constitutional right to a trial. Judges are a safety valve serving to prevent sentences that are a miscarriage of justice. If a jury convicts on evidence so thin the judge doubts guilt, a short sentence or probation can produce a semblance of justice. We hire judges to judge; if they screw up that task, the remedy is to remove them from the bench and put someone more qualified on the job — not to stamp out judicial decision making.

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