Opinion

Mandatory Minimum Sentences Punish Self-Defense

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Kevin Ring President, Families Against Mandatory Minimums

If conservatives weren’t already convinced that there is something wrong with our sentencing laws, they should take a couple minutes to learn about US Air Force veteran Michael Giles:

I know some people will hear Michael’s story and immediately try to find a way to justify his sentence. “If he feared for his life, why didn’t he shoot to kill?” “Why did he bring a gun into the club in the first place?” “He must have been guilty if the jury didn’t believe it was self-defense.”

I know that feeling — that there must be something more to the story. That’s how I always feel, too, when I first hear about cases like this one. I do not want to believe that our justice system is so broken that it could produce this absurd result.

But here’s the thing: No one is claiming Michael Giles is innocent. His actions meet the elements of Florida’s aggravated battery statute. By firing his gun, he was subject to Florida’s 10-20-Life law. He is guilty. The only relevant issue is whether a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence was a proportionate and fair sentence. I don’t think so, and neither did Michael’s judge.

Meanwhile, it appears that the Sessions Justice Department is about to expand its use of federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. But as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) likes to say, conservatives should oppose mandatory minimums not in spite of their political philosophy, but because of it, as Michael Giles’ case makes clear. These laws impose a one-size-fits-all solution, waste taxpayer dollars, and upset the constitutional separation of powers. When conservatives learn how some of these mandatory sentencing laws are applied, they will find even more to hate.

Michael Giles’ judge knew that 25 years was an excessive sentence, but he had no choice except to impose it, thanks to Florida’s mandatory minimum law. Once again, a one-size-fits-all solution was applied to a situation lawmakers did not foresee when they crafted the law. This outcome should not surprise conservatives, but it should bother them.

Kevin Ring is the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and the editor of Scalia’s Court: A Legacy of Landmark Opinions and Dissents (Regnery).