Chicago had more than 500 murders last year. The police chief believes that gun control is a big part of the answer, and has proposed a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted of illegal possession of a gun.
This has led to renewed interest in the Windy City about mandatory minimum sentencing generally. Some, including me, believe that the legislature has every right to decide that, for a given crime, there is a floor below which the court should not be able to go no matter what the mitigating circumstances. This seems no more than the logical counterpart to the notion that the legislature should be able to impose a ceiling on the sentence for a given crime, because, no matter how bad the offender may be, the act made criminal simply cannot, in fairness, warrant more than X amount of jail time. If we can accept a legislative judgment about what sentence is necessarily too harsh, given the nature of the offense -- and almost everyone would agree we can -- we can accept its judgment about what sentence is necessarily too lenient.
Others think that mandatory sentencing laws unwisely tie the judge's hands. In their view, only the judge has the flesh-and-blood defendant before him, and thus he alone -- not the legislature -- is able to tailor the sentence to the requirements of justice.
The battle will be joined when I discuss this topic with Prof. Doug Berman of the Ohio State University on Chicago's public radio station. The program is called "Morning Shift," and Doug and I will be on Monday at 9:15 a.m. Central Time. The show airs on WBEZ, 91.5.