The Washington Post on my friend Judge Mark Bennett and meth


You must read Eli Saslow, Against his better judgment, In the meth corridor of Iowa, a federal judge comes face to face with the reality of congressionally mandated sentencing, Washington Post (June 6, 2015). It is a very long and fascinating look at the reality that Mark confronts every day. It is worth your time to read this article slowly, and contemplate the important contents.


21 responses

  1. If Mr. Weller had not sold drugs across state lines and had been convicted by an Iowa court the outcome would have been much different. The irony is that mandatory minimums were supposed to make the punishment uniform.

  2. There’s a whole lot of irony in these tales but mostly a world of tragedy. Mandatory minimums were never a deterrent for him, or others, since most are ignorant of the punishment for their crimes. I see the medical side of these clients and others with other addictions. We in the medical profession feel the weight of trying to help, knowing that there are not enough resources available for those in need. And, honestly, we are still only beginning to understand what is necessary in addressing addictions. Our tax payer dollars would be far more appropriately spent in addressing the myriad social issues inherent in these cases than the compassionless and ineffective prison time that we now support.

  3. Mistake to quote Holder in the story. Holder has no credibility and he never did. See, Marc Rich.

  4. Punishment. Show no mercy. Lock ’em up and throw away the key. Isn’t that how Americans think? Doesn’t Grassley just reflect the stupidity of it all?

  5. The other side of the story is that some judges exercised too much discretion and so strict standards had to be enacted. Liberalism’s overreaching and super liberal judges brought this result.

  6. It is wrong that one senator can stop debate and voting on such an important issue, or any issue. It is also wrong that one senator can anonymously put a hold on a judicial nominee without having to declare his opposition or reasons for it. Only cowards fear the sunshine that open debate and voting bring.

  7. There’s a good argument that mandatory minimums violate the separation of powers. That argument was made and rejected (Mistretta v. United States), but that’s too bad:

    Interestingly enough, I find myself in agreement with Scalia on the point. He dissented in Mistretta. I often take issue with Nino. Did so just today:

  8. Judge – I have always wondered if there is any risk you or Judge Bennett from departing from the mandatory minimum, except for reversal. In the situation described in the article on Judge Bennett, could the judge have sentenced what he felt was right and the US Attorney simply not appeal to the 7th Circuit? If former AG Holder believed the mandatory sentences were unfair could he have issued directives on what the US Attorneys offices should charge OR instruct them not to appeal. As a civil practitioner, I find it disheartening that the mandatory sentences could force Judges like Bennett to leave the bench. It reminds me when a USMJ was on a panel and told the audience that she would not want to become an article III judge because of sentencing. She also commented that Article III judges earn that extra 10% for that duty.

  9. barak,

    A judge could ignore the statutory minimum but that would violate his or her oath of office. Besides, the USA would be obligated to appeal, and reversal would be certain.

    The USA can exercise charging discretion with regard to statutory minimums. That is becoming more common place.

    All the best.


  10. John,

    Given the present state of the law, an attack on statutory minimums on Eighth Amendment grounds would be futile. Knowing Mark, he has tried to figure out each and every way to legally avoid them.

    All the best.


  11. The article mentions Judge Bennett spending a few minutes in a maximum security cell, and that seems to have impacted him significantly. Have you ever done the same as him?

  12. It is not just Senator Grassley. We have had bipartisan support for “tough-on-crime” for 50 years. They don’t have the votes to undue 50 years of nearly unanimous votes.

  13. Oath of office?!? As if THAT restrains federal judges….

    If I had a dollar for every foul committed on the federal bench, I could retire to Tahiti.

  14. Our legal system needs an enema. Preferably, with a fire hose.

    At the state level, many petty offenders plead guilty to things they didn’t do because they can’t afford bail. When John Oliver pokes fun at the system (see the last episode of Last Week Tonight), you know it’s broken.

    The problem is not mandatory minimums themselves, but that the mandatory minimums are so draconian. Oscar Pistorius got five years (in reality, ten months) for murdering his girlfriend! Kudos to Judge Bennett for saying what needs to be said. We lock drug felons up not just for far too long, but for life, as no one will hire them after they get out. Do we need to fight the war on drugs with nuclear weapons?

    Obama should pardon all non-violent drug offenders as his last act in office.

  15. What the story doesn’t mention is why we got to this point. Whether you got six months’ probation or ten years of hard time depended on the judge, and that violates the defendants’ right to equal justice under law.

    Grassley isn’t a lawyer, and he despises judges. We couldn’t have a better man in charge of Judiciary. 🙂

  16. Pish-posh! It is not the oath (there is no penalty for violating it), but the likelihood of reversal (which means more work for the judge) that stays the judge’s hand.

    Judges will do whatever they can get away with, which is why we have mandatory minimums in the first place.

  17. I figured that. But speaking of daydreams:

    Grassley Floor Statement: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing/The Smarter Sentencing Act
    Mar 10, 2015

    Grassley and Bennett should get together over dinner one of these nights and compare notes.

    I would recommend the rhetoric octopus for an appetizer followed by the blackened perception tenderloin with a side of new leaf read potatoes and sweet experience corn for the main course and without a doubt three or four bottles of Ditchweed Red from the Snus Hill Vineyard & Winery in Madrid, Iowa.

    For desert I would recommend some actually ditchweed paired with the two scoops vanilla bean cooperation in the waffle cone topped with chocolate sprinkles.

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