Brave Thinkers November 2010

Jack Weinstein

More
Antony Hare

New York federal District Court Judge Jack Weinstein isn’t a fan of mandatory minimum sentences. As Congress ratchets up penalties for certain crimes, prison sentences have doubled, then doubled again, in the past decade, often for reasons more political than penological. Judges stripped of discretion can either rubber-stamp what they see as harsh sentences, or find ways to impose lower penalties, inviting accusations that they are legislating from the bench.

Weinstein so opposes mandatory minimum drug sentences that for a time he refused to handle minor drug cases. More recently, he’s stirred up controversy by taking the same stance with respect to collectors of child pornography. In a case this year involving a New York man with a huge collection of kiddie porn, Weinstein has repeatedly refused to impose the minimum five-year prison sentence. He’s already tossed out two convictions in the case and says jurors have a right to be told of the disproportionate punishment before they render a guilty verdict. As Weinstein explained to The New York Times, he doesn’t believe in “destroying lives unnecessarily” over a crime that harms nobody.

But does it harm nobody? Weinstein’s critics argue that merely “viewing” child porn does real harm to kids by perpetuating a $3 billion annual market. The Justice Department estimates that in creating their product, child pornographers have abused 1 million kids in the United States. And some studies suggest that between 30 and 50 percent of viewers of child porn also molest a child.

Weinstein says these people need treatment and supervision, not years in prison. And that puts him in the middle of several epic fights: between justice and mercy; between legislators and judges; and, ultimately, between what we know least and what we fear most.

Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate
Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In