Maybe it’s the time of year, but it seems that there’s been more than a handful of reports these past few weeks about judges who are taking critical look at how court decisions are impacting their communities.
There’s this story out of South Carolina, where yesterday Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen vacated the 1944 conviction of a black 14-year-old boy charged with allegedly murdering two white girls.
As Reuters reports, George Stinney Jr. was convicted by an all-white jury after a one-day trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation and died soon after in the electric chair. He was the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century.
Finding that Stinney did not receive a fair trial, Judge Mullen wrote:
From time to time we are called to look back to examine our still-recent history and correct injustice where possible. I can think of no greater injustice than a violation of one’s constitutional rights, which has been proven to me in this case by a preponderance of the evidence standard.
Then there’s this — one judge’s regrets about harsh sentences he was forced to hand down under federal sentencing guidelines.
Recalling how those guidelines came about, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn spoke to NPR this week as part of that organization’s ongoing look at their impact.
As NPR describes its efforts:
We talked with judges who expressed tearful misgivings about sending people away for the rest of their lives for crimes that involved no violence and a modest amount of drugs. We found a newly released inmate trying to reacquaint herself with her community in the Florida panhandle and rebuild ties with her grieving children after 17 years away from home. And we went inside a medium-security prison in New Jersey to find a lifer who says he deserves another chance. These people acknowledge that they broke the law and accept the need for punishment. But they say their decades-long incarcerations cast a shadow that lingers over their families, damage that far outweighs the wrongs they did to put them in prison.
Here’s what Gleeson had to say about the underpinnings of the guidelines:
This was a different time in our history. Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.