In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 18, 2005 / 11 Tammuz, 5765

The new inquisitor

By Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | There is a big problem in American law these days: Congressional lawmakers want to be judges, and judges want to be lawmakers. So Congress passes laws that strictly dictate how judges should do their jobs, and judges decide they can rearrange laws as if they wrote them.

Caught in the middle is Lissett Rivera.

Some five years ago, a U.S. district judge sentenced Rivera, a first-time offender, to eight years and one month for her role as a courier in a drug ring headed by a former Chicago gang-crime police officer.

Eight long years, apparently, weren't long enough for House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin. After a three-judge panel upheld the 97 -month sentence, Sensenbrenner sent a letter to Joel Flaum, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Seventh District, located in Chicago, asking that the court resentence Rivera to 10 years in prison.

Without sending copies to Rivera's defense attorney, Sensenbrenner sent a similar letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that asked the Department of Justice to take the "appropriate measures" to appeal the lighter sentence. After years of pushing through draconian mandatory-minimum sentences that often force judges to sentence low-level, nonviolent, first-time offenders to years, decades even, behind bars, Sensenbrenner has made himself a grand inquisitor, free to challenge any legal decisions that don't work for him.

In Sensenbrenner's favor, I should note, is the fact that the three-judge panel essentially agreed that the 97-month sentence was less than the 10 years called for under sentencing guidelines for conspiracy to sell more than five kilograms of cocaine. Nonetheless, because prosecutors didn't appeal, the judges wrote, the panel decided there was nothing it could do.

Sensenbrenner spokesman Jeff Lungren explained that Sensenbrenner was simply exercising his oversight role: "He's just asking that the court follow the law with sentencing. That's a perfectly reasonable request."

Lungren added that Sensenbrenner would protest any sentence that exceeded a maximum sentence. Yeah, but fat chance of that ever happening after Sensenbrenner and company have passed so many draconian laws that the harshest judges in America have trouble keeping in step.

Here's the worst part about Sensenbrenner's interference: It obviously didn't occur to him that, if the prosecutors didn't appeal the shorter sentence — not that eight years is light time for a first-time offender — then, there might be a reason.

Or if it did occur to him, he decided to fire off an intimidating letter, and hear the facts later.

Steven Shobat, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is handling Rivera's appeal, argued that his client deserved a break because she was involved in trafficking fewer than five kilos, had worked for years as a secretary and had no prior criminal record. She has been in prison for five years.

While Sensenbrenner's office may argue that while the sentences are cut and dried — five kilos equals 10 years — the justice system is highly flexible.

Prosecutors trade and juggle charges every day. And it is not as if the charges always fit the exact crime. As Jack King of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers noted, thanks to 1987 federal drug- conspiracy laws, "you can be convicted and sentenced for drugs you didn't deal. "

Donate to JWR

Rivera was convicted of conspiracy to deal five kilos. Shobat says that she was involved with the trade of three kilos, and that she deserved to serve less than 97 months. "Nobody's saying that shouldn't be punished," he said. Then added: "People should be punished for what they do, what they agree to do, and not for what somebody else did."

Meanwhile, you have to wonder why a member of Congress felt free to hector the judiciary and executive branches. It's not enough for him to write laws. Now he wants to oversee how cases are tried and make sure that sentences for first-time offenders are long enough.

With Congress' power of the purse over the federal courts, Sensenbrenner's action is more than oversight. It is bullying.

Worse, Team Sensenbrenner doesn't show any sign that it knows when to apply the brakes. A January Supreme Court decision allowed U.S. district judges to set sentences outside the guidelines. Sensenbrenner began working on a law to turn the guidelines into rigid mandatory-minimum sentences.

It's not right for judges to rule outside the law, but it's also not right for Congress to pass laws so rigid that many judges, in good conscience, don't want to enforce them. It's easy for Washington to enact long sentences. Unlike judges, House members never have to look into the faces of the accused. They never have to worry if a person who is easily redeemable will lose her young adulthood to prison. They don't have to see the humanity they lock up. And so they lose their own humanity.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.

Debra J. Saunders Archives

© 2005, Creators Syndicate