Sentences set by Congress for drug offenses may be too long, a Salt Lake federal judge said.
Federal penalties for armed drug traffickers include five years for having a weapon and 30 years for a gun silencer, with no possibility of parole."We have to seriously consider if these penalties are achieving what we want them to achieve," U.S. District Judge David K. Winder told an education workshop Wednesday.
"Shorter sentences can act as a deterrent. With longer sentences, people become part of the criminal environment when they spend so much time in prison," he said.
Winder said state officials are referring drug and weapons crimes to federal courts, where penalties are more severe.
Federal prisoners can get only 54 days per year knocked off a sentence for good behavior, he said. Thus, a model prisoner with a 12-year sentence can expect to spend at least 10 years behind bars, "regardless of the circumstances."
Last month, Winder sentenced two Draper men with no criminal records to five years in prison for growing 126 marijuana plants in the Uinta National Forest.
Last year he sentenced a Florida man to 29 years in prison on a drug-trafficking offense. The defendant had two convictions of distributing small qualities of drugs almost 20 years before, making the man a career criminal, subject to a long, mandatory prison term.
"Let your students know what happens in America when they get involved with drugs," said Winder, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Carter. "It's unfortunate that the ones who are most at risk are the least informed."
Winder said his most difficult task is passing sentences.
"The first responsibility a judge has is to protect society, but society rarely is here," he said. "What I see is a nice, well-dressed person and his family and numerous letters saying he'll never make another mistake if the law gives him a break."