One Utah man got drunk and beat to death his drinking companion; he was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Another Utahn had a gun tucked away during three sales of small amounts of marijuana; he got 55 years, says the Salt Lake Tribune. Paul Cassell, the judge in both cases, remains disturbed by the disparity. “It is hard to explain why a federal judge is required to give a longer sentence to a first offender who carried a gun to several marijuana deals than to a man who deliberately killed an elderly woman by hitting her over the head with a log,” Cassell testified recently to Congress.
Cassell told a House Judiciary subcommittee that repealing “irrational mandatory minimum sentences” is one way Congress could improve the sentencing process. Cassell chairs the Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking group for federal courts. He believes Congresss should reject a proposal to implement “topless” sentencing guidelines, which generally would allow defendants to be sentenced above a recommended range of years in prison but not below that range. Cassell said the idea “looks like a gimmick.” “They create a lot of uncertainty and a risk of litigation all over the country,” Cassell told the Tribune.