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Criminal sentence reform imperative: defense counsel's strong role

A recent national news article chronicles the tale of a one-time youthful offender who sold drugs "for some extra money." That individual was not a "player" in any sense of the word, nor did he have any history of violence.

And yet, notwithstanding those disclaimers, he presently resides behind bars in a federal penitentiary, 16 years into a term that will end only upon his death.

As noted by the author of that article (the former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder), the case is troublesome and begs fundamental questions centered upon the American justice system and sentencing outcomes that can unquestionably seem to reasonable people to be patently unfair.

As well as expensive. Holder notes that American taxpayers doled out about $80 billion in a recent year to cover the costs necessary to house the country's decidedly large prison/jail population.

Yes, that's with a "b," with the piles of money required for prison upkeep costs applying to a national prison population that is in the millions.

That price tag, contends Holder, is phenomenally large and unsustainable. He writes that it "is straining government budgets; [and that] the human and community costs are incalculable."

Proponents of broad-based and truly meaningful criminal sentencing reforms would certainly not argue that point in Alameda County or anywhere else in the United States.

Legions of reformists often stress that the first step to hammer home in any effort to bring more rationality and fairness to the system, as well as lowered costs, is more equity introduced into outcomes for nonviolent and first-time offenders. Holder notes, for example, the "draconian mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses."

Any proven criminal defense attorney lauds reform efforts that promote greater fairness in the system. At the same time, though, an experienced advocate acknowledges current sentencing realities and makes utmost efforts in every case to promote an optimal outcome for a criminal defendant who urgently needs legal assistance.

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