Supreme Court Deciding Minimum Sentencing Case

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When Jason Pepper was convicted for methamphetamine possession and sale in 2003. He pleaded guilty and cooperated by informing on others involved. Because of this and because he was a first time offender, the judge sentenced him to two years.

After jail and subsequent treatment, Jason turned his life around -- going to college, getting married and holding a steady job. In short, he represented a success story, a poster child for rehabilitation. However, while he was getting on with his life, the case had been on appeal because the judge did not follow minimum sentencing guidelines.

In Illinois, the minimum sentence for the offenses which would have been 8 to 10 years. The prosecution won on appeal and Jason had to appear for new sentencing. This time, the judge had additional ammunition -- after all, Jason had lived an exemplary life in the meantime. Based on this new evidence, the judge again sentenced him to 24 months (which he had already served).

And again the matter was appealed. This go-round it made it all the way to the Supreme Court. At issue is whether or not what you do while you await sentencing can be used to reduce your sentence. The oral arguments are over, and the legal details can be found here. As of this writing, the decision is still pending.

Underlying the decision will be the subtext of what role prison is meant to play. If it is rehabilitation, then Mr. Pepper is a shining success. If it is punishment, then he will probably have to return to prison.

Even if the Supreme Court rules against him, the case highlights how minimum sentencing rules can go bad. It might be enough to get Legislatures to address the problem and take action. After all, as a country, we hate injustice, and this case illustrates the clear problems with laws that do not allow for judicial discretion.

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