Judge Lagueux Rights A Wrong

federal courthouse Ten years ago U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux reluctantly sentenced Denise Dallaire to 15 years in prison for selling crack cocaine; one of the more invidious initiatives in the war on drugs — mandatory sentencing guidelines — left him no choice. The New York Times reports that last month Judge Lagueux had an opportunity to make the last five years of that sentence disappear and jumped on it.

“I felt bound by those mandatory guidelines and I hated them,” Judge Lagueux (pronounced la-GUEUR) said from the bench as Ms. Dallaire sobbed quietly and the room froze with amazement. “I’m sorry I sent you away for 15 years.”

Not only did Judge Lagueux apologize, but he had helped create this re-sentencing opportunity by pointing out a technical flaw in his own original sentence. (Read the article to understand the entire travel of the case; there’s more than one hero in this story.)

Mandatory sentencing was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2005 (two years after Dallaire’s 15-year sentence was imposed) and Congress has twice reduced sentences for inmates involved with crack cocaine, but thousands still languish in prisons hoping for their own day of redemption.

For decades judges across the country were forced to look countless defendants in the eye and impose tragically excessive sentences. That has got to take a toll; these judges must also be considered victims of our failed, flawed war on drugs.

Kudos to Judge Lagueux, and let’s hope this story starts repeating itself across the nation. Here was his final thought.

“This was a miscarriage of justice,” Judge Lagueux said in his living room in East Providence one recent afternoon. “It stayed in my mind to an unusual degree and I thought justice should be done.”

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