Judge Makes Bold and Honest Statement Concerning the Need to Reevaluate Sentences
Date:  02-17-2016

Connecticut Judge Stefan R. Underhill calls for legislation that would provide sentenced defendants the right to petition for a sentence reduction
Via New York Times

Did the Man I Sentenced to 18 Years Deserve It?


In 2006, I sentenced a man to 18 years in prison. I have been wrestling with that decision ever since.

As a federal district judge, I’ve sentenced hundreds of people, but I’ve rarely agonized as much as I did over this man’s fate.

He was the enforcer for a brutal gang of drug dealers in Bridgeport, Conn., known as the Terminators, and had sold heroin, assaulted rival dealers and murdered a potential witness. But after a falling-out with the head of the gang, he turned over a stash house to the police and fled the state. When captured in 2001, he immediately confessed to the murder and later testified as a star witness for the prosecution.

Thus arose my problem: He had committed horrible crimes, but he also seemed to be making an unusually sincere effort to atone for them. So which man was I sentencing? The murderer or the remorseful cooperator?

The prosecutor rewarded his cooperation by filing a so-called 5K motion, which allowed me to ignore the mandatory life sentence he otherwise would have faced. Still, after weighing the seriousness of his crimes, I sentenced him to 18 years, which was more time than even the prosecutor wanted.

I gave a speech encouraging the defendant to make the most of his time in prison. He promised to work hard and ready himself to lead a productive life after his release. But nearly everyone I sentence says something similar. In the years that followed, I often wondered whether his remorse was strong enough to overcome his past.

In 2012, I had the chance to find out. While attending a conference on sentencing issues, I learned that he was serving time in a prison nearby. I wanted to know whether he had become a better citizen or a better criminal. So I asked a prison staffer if I could meet with him in private.

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