Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Slate seems these days to be on a one-publication crusade to gut the criminal justice system. First, Stanford law professor Robert Weisberg, whom I've ridiculed in the past, published a bizarre, incoherent anti-death-penalty article with the apparent theme that because the death penalty makes many people feel uneasy, it will therefore always....uh....make many people feel uneasy. (The occasion for this article, incidentally, was the recent declaration by the governor of Maryland that his approval of an execution didn't make him feel uneasy.)

Five days later came defense lawyer Gerald Shargel, who had only a month earlier decried Ronald Reagan's "pernicious impact on the federal judicial system", in the form of the "unforgiving legislation" with which he "sought to smite what he perceived as the criminal menace." This time, Shragel was crowing victoriously about the "unprecedented chaos and procedural paralysis" created by the US Supreme Court's recent Blakely decision, which struck down one of Shargel's least favorite Reagan-era initiatives, the federal sentencing guidelines. To anyone other than a defense lawyer, the prospect of chaos in the criminal justice system might seem a trifle alarming, but apparently the editors at Slate find the defense bar's naked enthusiasm for mayhem to be far more compelling fare.

In between Weisberg and Shargel--that's three pro-leniency articles in a five-day span--came law student Dana Mulhauser, who echoed the standard complaint about the now-stricken-down federal sentencing guidelines: "the results have been Draconian", because "legislatures....tend to be punishment-happy". One of his examples: "[f]or legal immigrants, convictions for offenses as minor as writing a forged check result in mandatory detention and deportation."

Now, as a matter of fact, I happen to be a legal immigrant to the US, and in the highly unlikely event that I were to be convicted of check fraud, I could hardly blame the INS for deporting me. If I can't even justify greater leniency towards people in my own exact circumstances, then why on earth is (presumed American citizen) Dana Mulhauser--or the rest of Slate's stable of anti-punishment activists--complaining on my behalf?

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