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Federal sentencing outcome slammed -- by the judge who imposed it

Twenty four years behind bars for a woman who a media commentator says had "horribly skewed" judgment in the wake of her spouse's suicide? Twenty four years for her involvement assisting a co-conspirator in a meth amphetamine operation that was driven by her stated "desperation to provide for my sons" following her husband's passing?

The above-cited critic lambasts the federal criminal sentencing guidelines that circumscribed the judge's discretion in the woman's case and yielded the 24-year term. He calls the sentence "idiotic, arbitrary, unduly harsh, and grossly unfair," and tops off that diatribe with the flat assessment that the outcome "was a gross miscarriage of justice."

The commentator criticizing the sentenced imposed by the federal judge is … the judge.

In fact, U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett can clearly not shake from his mind the resulting injustice of the sentence he imposed on the defendant and mother in a meth scheme, noting recently that her major error was being manipulated by a boyfriend during an emotionally draining time following her husband's death "out of a misguided sense of loyalty and love."

The woman has now served 14 years of her term, with a decade remaining.

Bennett does not want her to complete that term. In fact, he wants her out of prison now.

The judge is petitioning President Obama for clemency in the matter, urging the nation's chief executive to exercise his pardon powers to free the woman. As reported in one national media outlet, Bennett is "one of thousands" asking Obama to act.

The woman's case is notable, but it is far from being a rare outcome under the long-tenured guideline scheme that has straitjacketed federal judges when they pronounce criminal sentences. Legions of nonviolent and even first-time offending inmates reside behind bars presently pursuant to decades-long prison terms meted out by judges who, absent the guidelines, would have opted for a different outcome.

The guidelines have come in for scathing criticism recently, with strong tailwinds driving reform in Washington, D.C., and also in many state legislatures.

We will be sure to pass along to our California readers material reform-related information that could well emerge in upcoming weeks and months.

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