In a ruling that is all too rare in federal court, a federal district judge presiding here in Atlanta, Georgia declared the mandatory minimum portion of a federal criminal statute unconstitutional. At trial, the defendant was convicted of an offense that required the Court to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years. Before sentencing, however, the criminal defense attorney who represented the defendant filed a motion with the Court, asking the Judge to declare the mandatory minimum portion of the statute unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
In a methodical and well-supported decision, the Court agreed with the defendant’s position, concluding “that a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for [the defendant], under the specific facts of his case, is so grossly disproportionate to his crime as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
In reaching its decision, the Court recognized “the serious nature of [the defendant’s] offense. [The Defendant] believed a ten year old child to exist and took steps to engage in sexual activity with her.” However, the Court pointed out that “it is also a fact that [the defendant] never had any contact, sexual or otherwise, with the child. No harm was suffered. Of course, it was not possible for a child to be harmed, because the child was a creation of law enforcement, and no real child exists.”
The federal public defenders that handled this case have obviously done an outstanding job. For those of you who want all the details, the full opinion can be found here.