I have been foreman on a jury where it was obvious that the accused was guilty, but the jury was afraid to deliver a guilty verdict knowing that such a verdict would result in a long prison term for a minor crime. The crime was a felony and a conviction would result in a mandatory prison term of many years. Yet the crime was far less in cost or damages than what the court system had expended in apprehending and trying the accused. Yes, we ruled the accused guilty. So after a week of trial requiring the time of prosecutors, public defenders, firemen, police, the courtroom and judiciary, and the entire jury, the accused was convicted and would spend several years in prison as required by the mandatory sentencing rules for setting a fire which cost the victims approximately $7,500.
The mandatory sentencing requirements were first of all an impediment to a just verdict and once rendered resulted in an unjust prison term. Sometimes our judiciary seems foolish and lenient, and inconsistent, and thus the mandatory sentencing guidelines are enacted. But sometimes mandatory sentences don't work. I have more confidence in the judiciary that the miscarriage of justice will be diminished when the time can fit the crime.
-- KEITH CHRISTENSEN, Richland