It seems these days that everybody is on the “let's end mandatory minimums” train. For those who may not know, a mandatory minimum is a predefined, compulsory term of imprisonment required for certain offenses regardless of context. It seems to be one of the issues du jour for many people. For example, John Oliver did a piece about them. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) continues its good work.
As I'm sure you can imagine, this criminal defense lawyer is also for getting rid of most mandatory minimums. Unfortunately, I live in a state where mandatory minimums are applied frequently and for crimes where they are not justified. Which brings me to a situation that occurred in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court earlier this week. Judge Laurie White was left to impose a sentence on one Antoine Green, who pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery of his former employer. Mr. Green, who had never been arrested prior to this arrest, apparently was so desperate for money that he obtained a “street gun,” put on a bandana, and tried to rob a Warehouse District restaurant/bar. Regrettably for Mr. Green, he was recognized by one of the bartenders. He fled the bar with nothing, was arrested 10 days later, apparently made a full confession, and told NOPD that he “left the money because God told him he should not be partaking in this activity.”
The mandatory minimum for attempted armed robbery in Louisiana is five years at hard labor. The bartender/victim believed that five years was excessive, as did Judge White. The judge noted “Do we need to punish him for five years? I don't think so. But the law requires it. This is a perfect example of how sad our legislative enactments and sentences are. I don't think it's constructive for this individual, but the authority is with the district attorney's office. The district attorney, who has the authority to talk to that victim, could have made a change to those charges but has said he's not going to do it. As much as that sentence is not what he deserves, the prosecutor chose not to do it, because they're all about keeping people paying back.” She then sentenced Mr. Green to five years hard labor. Both he and the victim were left in tears.
Now I understand that Mr. Green may not be the most sympathetic guy in the world. Most cases cited by those who oppose mandatory minimums as being outrageous involve “victimless” crimes, particularly drug crimes. Even though he did not get away with a penny, Mr. Green's crime was clearly a violent one. Incidentally, the troglodytes and cretins that usually inhabit the nola.com comments section think that he should have gotten more time…..
I don't know Mr. Green and I don't know his case. I am sure that his lawyer John Radziewicz (who I know and who is a very good lawyer) represented Mr. Green ably. Where I fully agree with Judge White is with respect to the district attorney's office. In Louisiana, a DA's office has complete and unfettered discretion on how to proceed with its cases. The DA's office could have chosen to go with a different charge, such as simple robbery (which has no mandatory minimum) or first degree robbery (mandatory minimum of three years at hard labor). In most cases where there is a victim, the DA's office will try to get in touch with and speak to that victim to gauge his or her thoughts on the case. More often than not, the victim is out for blood. However, when the victim is not in favor of a harsh sentence (which happens more often than you might think), the DA's office ignores the victim's wishes and plays the ole deterrence card.
To that end, the Orleans Parish District Attorney's spokesman Christopher Bowman stated after this case “The district attorney certainly invites victims in all crimes to express their opinions and he certainly considers those. However, it is the responsibility of the district attorney's office to represent the entire community. And, given the epidemic levels of gun violence we are facing in New Orleans, the district attorney does not believe this is the time to go soft on the persons carrying illegal guns and perpetrating crimes with them.” Translation: “We welcome crime victims to voice their opinions. If those victims are in favor of a harsh sentence, they are correct. We will support them in that and seek a harsh sentence. If the victim is not in favor of a harsh sentence, he or she is an idiot and doesn't understand the dire consequences of allowing context in sentencing. Therefore, we will still seek a harsh sentence.” Essentially, the DA's office is having its cake and eating it too.
I am of the opinion that victims play far too large a role in criminal prosecutions. District attorneys throughout the state have accepted the creed that victims of crime, particularly victims of violent crime, should have a very strong voice in the decisions that they have to make. However, as Judge White noted, the district attorney's office is the entity responsible for determining how and when to prosecute. A crime victim has no constitutional or statutory right to do so. The sentencing guidelines do not state that a judge should take a victim's wishes into account when pronouncing sentence. I believe that the focus on victims rather than on doing what is right and/or justice is simply the politically beneficial thing to do. District attorneys are, after all, politicians who run in partisan elections.
Long story short: If you commit a violent offense in Louisiana or you commit a felony and you have other felonies on your record, you should be wary that you might receive a mandatory minimum sentence. If you are in this situation, contact the Law Office of Alex Kriksciun today!