- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

The Supreme Court may be having second thoughts about their decision that maintains trial by jury also means sentencing by jury in certain criminal cases. While the Sixth Amendment grants us a right to trial by jury, it doesn't say anything about sentencing. The problem has been brought about by the Clinton administration, which invented a new crime called the “hate crime.” Defendants convicted of hate crimes will incur longer sentences than those who commit run-of-the-mill crimes, up to and including murder.

However, the jury will determine if the crime was motivated by hate, and if so, decide upon the sentence. The learned judge who has spent years in the practice of law will be replaced by the street cleaner, welfare recipient or high school drop-out, who will now make decisions for him. As a result, there are numerous cases coming before the court by defendants who feel they were handed a raw deal by the judge. Apparently, they feel a jury of their peers would be much more sympathetic when passing sentence.

This all came about as the result of a ruling that said a New Jersey man who shot up a black family's home may have done so as a result of hate, and therefore should be sent to prison longer than the maximum sentence a judge could invoke. Now I know there is a fine line between love and hate, but this is ridiculous. What we are being told is that crimes against minorities are more serious than those against individuals who don't fall into a minority category. In other words, when a white man shoots a black man, it's more serious than when a white man shoots a white man. We must presume there is no hate involved in the latter situation. Is affirmative action spilling over into our court system?

Once again, the victim is put on the back burner. A dead victim is just as dead regardless of how much hate was involved in his demise. If the purpose of the hate crime bill was to be able to surpass the maximum sentence allowed, perhaps we should raise the maximums. This was another 5-to-4 decision by the Supreme Court. It's a good example of what happens when we start tinkering with the Constitution.

Defense attorneys must feel that defendants will get a better deal from a jury than from a judge. Right now, most of these cases have involved drugs, where sentencing might be determined by how much cocaine someone sold or possessed. Eventually, juries will be required to look at defendant's use of a gun, how big a loss he or she incurred in a fraud case, and countless other factors to determine the length of sentence.

It appears the role of the judge will be diminished to where all we need on the bench is someone familiar with Robert's Rules of Order to run the court. Are 12 men good and true as capable as a judge when it comes to sorting out evidence and passing sentence? Granted we have some terrible judges, but I have to believe that we also have many people sitting on juries that are barely functional. Have we forgotten about O.J. already?


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