Mandatory minimum sentences are typically the tool of angry lawmakers. A lawmaker learns of a case which from afar he think calls for incarceration. The defendant is granted probation. The lawmaker talks tough on crime, a community rallies, and soon new legislation is passed.
All this typically done without the benefit of what the judge, prosecutor and defense counsel knew. All this done, in effect, from the peanut gallery.
Consider the case of Connecticut State Rep. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton. Mr. Witkos just read that a man accused of possessing child pornography was not whisked off to prison upon conviction. Predictably, Witkos now calls for mandatory jail time, and he wants the state to notify people living within 500 feet of a sex offender's home. He wants more hysteria.
The case in question involved a man convicted of possessing pornographic images of children. Some of the images depicted rape. After being charged he promptly sought treatment. His treater told the judge, one year after the arrest, that the man was in treatment, doing well, and was a low risk to reoffend.
That wasn't enough for Mr. Witkos, apparently. He wanted something more than rehabilitation. And a felony conviction was not enough flesh. Perhaps the death penalty would satisfy Mr. Witkos.
Connecticut's United States Attorney, Kevin O'Connor, is also prepared to jump on the bandwagon. His office may prosecute the man now, too. What federal interest is served at this point? Any potential prosecution looks vindictive. Defendant not hammered hard enough in state court? Then let's place his head on a federal anvil.
Apparently the sentencing judge felt it necessary to defend his decision in the wake of Witkos's rage. In a prepared statement he noted the defenant had no criminal history, was charged with mere possession, and had not distributed pornography. The defendant had no contact with minors.
"The psychiatrist who evaluated [Burke] for over one year prior to sentencing reported that in his 37 years of evaluating defendants, he has never evaluated an offender with such a low risk of interacting with children," the Judge said. The defendant accepted responsibility for his acts, was shameful, and even probation officers recommended probation.
A group of anonymous nitwits calling itself the was also outraged. They feel vulnerable, they told the press.
Enough of this nonsense. Sex offenses are in our time the new witchcraft. We're as hysterical about these crimes as were the good people of Salem over witches. And our means of addressing the hysteria is about as effective.
In Connecticut, as elsewhere, we mandate sex offender treatment for those convicted of a crime. Yet even the experts disagree about whether treatment works. Overwhelmed social workers and probation officers then staff these programs, with often silly and ridiculous requirements.
Defense counsel in this case handled it just right. His client was charged, and the evidence apparently sufficient to convict. So the client got treatment, and, lo and behold, the treatment worked. The defendant pleaded guilty, and a judge not known to be soft on crime, did not send him to prison because there was no need to do so.
The system worked this time. But that's not enough for those bent on vengeance or easy votes. Who will protect us from the likes of Mr. Witkos? Read all about it