Federal Judge Challenges Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Law After Appeals Court Reverses Him

A New York federal judge harshly criticized a statute imposing mandatory minimum sentences after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his order imposing a shorter sentence. U.S. v. C.R., No. 1:09-cr-00155, mem. and order (E.D.N.Y., Sep. 26, 2013). The defendant pleaded guilty to a single count of online distribution of child pornography. U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein sentenced him to thirty months in prison, stating that the five-year minimum established by federal law is unconstitutional. The government appealed the sentence, and the Second Circuit remanded the case to Judge Weinstein’s court for resentencing. Judge Weinstein’s order highlights some of the injustices in mandatory minimum sentencing, which is a common feature in drug cases, sex-related offenses, and elsewhere.

The defendant pleaded guilty to one count of distributing child pornography. 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2). The minimum term of imprisonment for this offense is five years. Id. at § 2252(b)(1). Judge Weinstein sentenced him to thirty months in prison instead. U.S. v. C.R., 792 F.Supp.2d 343 (E.D.N.Y. 2011). He ruled that the five-year minimum is a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The defendant, Judge Weinstein noted, was only nineteen years old when the offense occurred, and would benefit far more from sex offender treatment and supervised release than a long term of imprisonment. The judge also noted that an adult who committed actual abuse depicted in material found on the defendant’s computer received a fifty-year prison sentence, and another adult who harassed the same child was sentenced to twenty years. Five years or more in prison, Judge Weinstein said, would destroy the defendant’s life, when there might otherwise be a chance at rehabilitation.

The Second Circuit was not persuaded by Judge Weinstein’s ruling, finding that the district court erred both in declining to impose the statutory minimum sentence and in its application of the federal sentencing guidelines. U.S. v. Reingold, No. 11-2826-cr, slip op. (2nd Cir., Sep. 26, 2013). The defendant admitted to investigators that he had downloaded “a ton” of illegal material and shared some of it with ten to twenty others on a file-sharing website. During a polygraph test, he also reportedly admitted to sexual activity with a minor when he was younger, which resulted in prosecutors rejecting a plea for simple possession of child pornography. These facts impacted the court’s ruling that Judge Weinstein did not properly apply the proportionality test for the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits punishments that are substantially disproportionate to the offense.

Judge Weinstein, in his order responding to the Second Circuit, stated that the case “exemplifies the sometimes unnecessary cruelty of our federal criminal law.” He ordered that the defendant appear for resentencing, but reiterated many of his concerns regarding the cost of imposing lengthy sentences through mandatory minimums, including drug possession and drug trafficking cases.

Criminal defendants have rights under the U.S. Constitution that police, prosecutors, and courts must respect at all times. Board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has spent more than twenty years fighting for the rights of west Texas defendants in criminal cases, and he has worked as an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor. To schedule a confidential consultation regarding your legal matter, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Law Enforcement Cracks Down on New Area of Cybercrime: Alleged Online Extortionists Targeting Young Women and Minors, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 9, 2013
Federal Prosecutors Charge Alleged Proprietor of Online Marketplace for Illegal Drugs, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 3, 2013
Retroactive Application of Sentencing Guidelines Violates Ex Post Facto Clause – Peugh v. U.S., Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 17, 2013

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