Mandatory Minimums

One Georgia Judge Takes on Mandatory Minimums by Informing Jury Before Conviction

Reminds prosecutors that juries are supposed to serve as a check on government power

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Recognizing that the juries are supposed to have power? How droll.
Credit: steakpinball / photo on flickr

We all know that juries don't really decide criminal cases on all the facts. They decide cases on all the facts the state allows them to consider. Sometimes the potential sentences of certain convictions are among the facts the government (prosecutors especially) want to conceal. A Fulton County Superior Court judge in Georgia has apparently had enough of keeping her juries in the dark about mandatory minimum sentences. Wendy Shoob decided to fill them in before they went into deliberations. From the Fully Informed Jury Association:

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob recently took the all too uncommon but highly commendable step of informing jurors of the mandatory minimum punishment she would be forced to impose on the defendant if they convicted him of armed robbery. In this case, the defendant was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted of armed robbery (with an air gun) because he had three prior felonies: one for possession of a screwdriver (yes, really), another for receiving stolen property, and a third for aggravated assault during a jail riot.

The prosecution tried to get her to dump the case. She refused, saying that she had the right to express her opinion about mandatory minimum sentences and that the jury "should be informed when their verdict automatically imposes, by law, a mandatory sentence." She also pointed out that jury power over sentencing is supposed to serve as "a check on overreaching government."

The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty of a lesser charge that sent him to prison for 30 years, 10 of which must be served without the possibility of parole.

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  1. Probably reversible error, these days. Jurors have no rights.

    1. Could the state appeal though? If it did and won, then the remedy (presumably) would be a new trial. And that, I think, would be a double jeopardy violation.

      1. No, I was just kidding. I think they can appeal if the case is dismissed after a verdict and can appeal some other things, just not the final verdict. Can’t remember how all of that works, in any case.

    2. TFA quotes the Georgia state constitution:

      In criminal cases, the defendant shall have a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury; and the jury shall be the judges of the law and the facts.

      It depends on how much and what kind of judicial activism is prevalent in Georgia courts.

  2. I wonder how long till she gets painted as a cop killing soft on crime Somalian road builder?

    1. We really need some radical libertarians on the bench. Starting with the Supreme Court.

      1. Good luck with that. I will be out back milking my unicorn for angels’ tears…

        1. The only remote chance of that happening is a Paul presidency, but even if that happens, he has to get candidates through. I believe Janice Rogers Brown could get confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate, though. She was confirmed for her current position with the DC Circuit of Appeals, though the Democrats fought her nomination tooth and nail. Not liking a black woman who was the child of sharecroppers, I guess. She’s got an excellent record.

          1. So, we need to go all ‘Pelican Brief’ and stand ready to ‘clear the slate’ if it looks like Paul might take the top slot?

  3. She also pointed out that jury power over sentencing is supposed to serve as “a check on overreaching government.”

    Awesome. Juries should always be aware that they are sovereign and answerable to no one in how they deliberate and decide cases.

  4. Ah, the political pendulum swings again….

    You youngsters may not know this, but mandatory minimums were a 1970s innovation to solve the problem of wildly disparate sentences. Back then there were headlines about judges giving overly weak sentences, so they came up with this form of wage and price control for criminal justice. Then, of course, it became even more of a political football, and so lots of these minimums were revised upwards so that politicians could claim they were tough on crime. And now we all have a new type of injustice to be outraged about.

    A century ago, progressives demanded animal testing of medicine and cosmetics. Today, they demand an end to the awful practice imposed by their intellectual ancestors.

    And so the political pendulum swings again….

    1. Back then there were headlines about judges giving overly weak sentences, so they came up with this form of wage and price control for criminal justice.

      These “weak” sentences were generally the result of the judge actually looking at the facts and determining “you know what, serving 15 years for doing something which is technically a violation of the law, would be a severe miscarriage of justice” and rarely of corruption/stupidity. The problem is that the stupid/corrupt judges got all the attention.

    2. You must be talking about those progressives named Reagan and Bush.

  5. My ex-wife makes $75 every hour on the laptop . She has been laid off for seven months but last month her pay check was $18875 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
    Look At This. ???? http://www.jobsfish.com

  6. Everything she told the jury is public record. Should be no issue with it. And if the guy has 3 prior felonies, I would have no problem convicting him and shipping him away. Everyone deserves a second chance. No one deserves a fourth chance.

    1. Considering that:
      A. one of those three felonies was for possession of a screwdriver,
      B. a second of those felonies?aggravated assault?perhaps never would have happened if he hadn’t been held captive during a jail riot, and
      C. the punishment for rape in Georgia can be as little as 25 years,

      jurors can very reasonable decide, as apparently this jury did, that a robbery with an air gun does not warrant life in prison without the possibility of parole. He’s certainly not going unpunished?he will spend at least ten years in prison for the charge of which they convicted him. So it’s not a matter of giving him a fourth chance, but rather of proportionate and appropriate sentencing.

  7. Was that an assault screwdriver? No link to that whopper of a teaser.

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