When the judge, prosecution and defense all agree that a sentence is too harsh or that they made a mistake, one might think that the conditions are ripe to just fix it. The legal profession has at its core a lot of lawyers who are great problem solvers. But, as a story in The Washington Post illustrates, perhaps it is not so simple:
The judge who sentenced Raymond Surratt Jr. to life in prison didn’t think he deserved that tough a penalty. His attorneys said it was based on bad math. Even the government lawyers who prosecuted him say the sentence was a mistake.
Yet they all also agree Surratt might stay locked up forever.
How that came to be is at the heart of arguments to be heard Wednesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit takes up Surratt’s case, which turns on how many times inmates can appeal a sentence, particularly if the law becomes more lenient after they are sent to prison.
“Raymond Surratt will die in prison because of a sentence that the government and the district court agree is undeserved and unjust,” a judge wrote last summer, siding with Surratt in a divided panel decision from the same court.
The judges who ruled against him in the 2-to-1 decision are also sympathetic. They just don’t think the courts have the power to do anything about it.
The full story is here.