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Our View: Mandatory minimums imprisoned Hammonds

Published on July 10, 2018 4:24PM

Now that the Hammonds are coming home, how about an effort to curtail the mandatory minimum sentences that kept them behind bars?

After President Trump pardoned the Hammonds yesterday, freeing them from the remainder of the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for burning federal land, we hope new discussions will emerge about the efficacy of removing judicial discretion with mandated sentences.

The Hammond case is the perfect example of how these laws with noble intentions — ensuring justice for the worst offenders — may sound great but fail to provide actual justice.

The Hammonds were convicted by a jury of their peers for a federal crime after a fire they ignited on their rangeland burned onto public land.

The federal crime carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

The original judge did not believe a five-year sentence was proportionate with the crime committed. He declined to enforce the mandatory sentence and issued lesser sentences.

The problem was that the sentence was mandatory, which meant the judge lacked the discretion to alter it, regardless of the circumstances.

If mandatory minimums did not exist, the Hammonds’ story could have ended when the judge handed down a sentence he believed fit the crime.

Instead, the lesser sentence was appealed by the prosecutors, and the appellate court ruled that mandatory sentences are indeed mandatory.

That’s how the law is written. The original judge, despite his conscience, had no authority to issue a lesser sentence. The law removes this discretion.

So the Hammonds were ordered back to prison, where they have been incarcerated for another two and a half years, after serving their original sentences.

The presidential pardon will allow these two men to return home to their families, but it will not prevent the problem from occurring again. As long as mandatory minimum sentences are on the books, judges will lack discretion to dispense sentences commensurate with the crimes.

We are glad the Hammonds have finally been freed. We agree the five-year mandatory minimum sentence did not fit the crime for which they were charged.

We hope lawmakers will learn from this example and end mandatory minimum sentences.


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