When a Judge Can't Budge
African Americans & drugs
(Sentinel, June 14, 2012)
In the government's rigged
War on Drugs thousands of innocent Citizens of Color are routinely incarcerated. Surprisingly, in this
onslaught, even certain conservative judges are bothered by mandatory sentences that overwhelmingly impact African Americans
negatively. Take the case of Weldon Angelos.
As a 24-year-old
record producer he should not have thrice sold marijuana, especially while in possession of a weapon he neither used nor
threatened to use. But, under these circumstances, federal sentencing guidelines dictate that the judge
sentence Angelos to a fifty-five-year mandatory minimum sentence. He'll be eighty when he gets out.
The judge himself was so bothered that he couldn't lighten
Angelos' sentence that, according to Marc Mauer in the book Race to Incarcerate (2006) he decried
from the bench, "The Court believes that to sentence Mr. Angelos to prison for the rest of his life
is unjust, cruel, and even irrational."
federal judges," writes Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow (2010), have quit in protest of federal drug
laws and sentencing guidelines. "Face-to-face with those whose lives hang in the balance, they are far closer to the
human tragedy occasioned by the drug war than the legislators who write the laws from afar."
Judge Lawrence Irving: Case in point is the Reagan-appointed conservative
Judge Lawrence Irving. "If I remain on the bench," confessed Irving, "I have no choice but to follow the law.
I just can't, in good conscience, continue to do this." (Special to the New York Times, "Criticizing Sentencing
Rules, US Judge Resigns," New York Times, September 30, 1990)
Jack Weinstein: The New York Times article, "Two Federal Judges, in Protest,
Refuse to Accept Drug Cases" (April 17, 1993), singles out Judge Jack Weinstein as one of two judges who flat out refused
to take drug cases. Weinstein is quoted as describing "a sense of depression about much of the cruelty I have been a
party to in connection with the ‘war on drugs.'"
Stanley Marshall: In the article, "Revolt to Sentencing is Gaining Momentum" in the National Law Journal
(May 17, 1993), former prosecutor Chris Carmondy quotes Judge Stanley Marshall as saying: "I've always been considered
a fairly harsh sentencer, but it's killing me that I'm sending so many low-level offenders away for all this time."
Alexander writes that "He made the statement after
imposing a five-year sentence on a mother in Washington, D.C., who was convicted of ‘possession'
of crack found by police in a locked box that her son had hidden in her attic."
William Schwarzer: In an American Lawyer article entitled "Ten Years for Two
Ounces" (March 1990), Stuart Taylor Jr., details the reaction of a crusty, hardline conservative
California judge to the obligatory sentence he meted out:
Judge William W. Schwarzer, a Republican appointee, is not known as a light sentencer. Thus it was that
everyone in his San Francisco courtroom watched in stunned silence as Schwarzer, known for his stoic
demeanor, choked with tears as he anguished over sentencing Richard Anderson, a first offender Oakland
longshoreman, to ten years in prison without parole for what appeared to be a minor mistake in judgment
in having given a ride to a drug dealer for a meeting with an undercover agent."
Justice Anthony Kennedy: Even Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy voiced serious
misgivings about mandatory minimum sentences. In the book, Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime
and End Mass Incarceration (2005), Michael Jacobson quotes Justice Kennedy as telling attorneys
gathered at the American Bar Association's 2003 annual conference: "Our [prison] resources are misspent,
our punishments too severe, our sentences too loaded. I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom
of federal mandatory minimum sentences. In all too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unjust."
Judge Sebastião Alves Junqueira:
Brazil doesn't have mandatory sentencing. In 1966, long before becoming a Brazilian judge, Junqueira graduated
as a sergeant from military school. He later earned a law degree. Then, in 1976, he became a police chief, and was even a
"When I became one of Jehovah's
Witnesses," writes Judge Junqueira, "I gained a deeper understanding of right and wrong. As
a judge, I try to put Jehovah's way of dealing with different issues into practice in court--taking
into consideration all the circumstances, being reasonable, and being compassionate when there are mitigating
circumstances. I have dealt with many cases of violence, crime, and child abuse, as well as other serious
criminal offenses. Even so, I haven't become desensitized."
to come. Stay tuned.