John Gleeson, a U.S. District Court judge in Brooklyn, has never been shy about meting out tough sentences, says Adam Liptak in the New York Times. “Most people, including me,” he wrote in a 2010 decision, “agree that the kingpins, masterminds and midlevel managers of drug trafficking enterprises deserve severe punishment.” But he has lately been saying that prosecutors' insistence on mandatory minimum sentences for minor players in the drug trade has warped the criminal justice system and robbed judges of sentencing authority.
Gleeson recently considered the fate of Jamel Dossie, whom he called “a young, small-time, street-level drug dealer's assistant.” Dossie was an intermediary in four hand-to-hand crack sales, for which he made a total of about $140. Two of the sales exceeded, barely, the 28-gram threshold that allows prosecutors to call for a mandatory five-year sentence. The prosecutors' decision to invoke the law calling for a mandatory sentence in Dossie's case meant Gleeson had no choice but to send Dossie away for five years. Had his hands not been tied, Judge Gleeson wrote, “there is no way I would have sentenced” Dossie to so long a sentence.