Judge Young Pulls No Punches When it Comes to Mandatory Sentencing

by Lee Gesmer on May 19, 2008

You may recall the brouhaha that arose last year when a Massachusetts state district court judge vacated a prior state court conviction in order to mitigate the impact that the conviction would have on the defendant under the federal sentencing guidelines in an upcoming sentencing in federal court. The defendant, Matthew West, was due to be sentenced in federal court by Judge Young later the same day. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the existence or non-existence of a prior conviction made a huge difference in how much time West would be required to serve under the guidelines. Hence the urgency (on the part of West) in getting the earlier conviction vacated so it wouldn’t be counted against him.

The whole bizarre story is described here. You may recall that after that story broke the judge was the subject of massive public criticism (think talk radio, Boston Herald). She ended up in the emergency room with chest pains, and upon recovering she changed her mind and reinstated the conviction. Wow. Being a judge in Massachusett is very stressful. (For another example of just how stressful, click here).

Now Massachusetts Federal District Court Judge William Young has used his sentencing memorandum in the Matthew West case to expound his views on the legislative and judicial history behind the guidelines. This 35 page memorandum, available here, is a brilliant, exhaustively researched and opinionated discussion of the extraordinarily controversial issues associated with mandatory sentencing guidelines. Suffice it to say, Judge Young was no fan of this law (which was demoted from “mandatory” to “advisory” by the Supreme Court in 2005 in Booker v. United States and subsequent cases), and he is highly critical of the law, even as it is applied post-Booker.

As a sordid bonus, the memorandum includes the 15 page transcript of the hearing before the state court judge at which West’s state conviction was vacated, including the famous quote from the judge, “Tell him it was an early Christmas present.” The question of who said this is likely to be a trivia question for Massachusetts lawyers for years to come. The answer: Justice Diane Moriarity.

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