Controversial Or Not, Sheriff Clarke Continues To Fill A Local Leadership Vacuum
I understand that, at least in some circles, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke remains a controversial figure. Controversy notwithstanding, when he's right - he's right.
And last week, Sheriff Clarke was absolutely right!
In remarks which didn't get anywhere near the attention they deserved, Clarke called out the Milwaukee County court system big time. It's unfortunate that, with a very few exceptions, more officials don't have the courage to do the same.
Using the case of Alan Pointer as an example, Clarke pointed out the shameful leniency shown drunk drivers in MIlwaukee County. Pointer is the 42 year old MIlwaukee man who struck and killed a pedestrian last February. At the time of the incident, Pointer had a blood alchol level in excess of .15 (nearly twice the legal limit). This was Pointer's third arrest for driving while drunk.
Despite facing 25 years in prison, Pointer was sentenced by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald to one year in the House of Correction, with work release privileges for the last six months. A sentence like this is what Clarke refers to as a "bed and breakfast" sentence. You know, wake up, hang around long enough to get free breakfast, run the streets all day and then come back at bedtime.
The truth is that Joe Donald is far from one of the lightest sentencers in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. That's what makes the Pointer sentence so outrageous. It's typical of what goes on daily at the Courthouse.
Catch and release. Catch and release. Catch and release.
Believe it or not, the answer to the problem is not increased penalties. In this case, Pointer was looking at 25 years in prison. Making the maximum penalty 50 years would have changed nothing.
Rather, the solution is mandatory minimum penalties which require that people who commit certain crimes MUST go to prison for specified periods of time. If a judge wants to sentence someone to a greater penalty - fine. Under no circumstances though can a judge go under the mandatory minimum sentence.
I recognize that certain soft on crime legislators hate this idea. I also recognize that judges hate it because it takes some of their discretion away. Criminal defense lawyers and their clients don't like mandatory minimums either. Too bad. You'll never be able to please everyone.
The Federal courts have operated with mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for almost twenty years. For example, if you commit a crime with a gun, you go to prison for at least five years. I don't know if this deters the bad guys from committing future crimes but I do know that it protects society for the time that the violent felon is off the streets!
While many officials are wringing their hands about crime, Sheriff Clarke is saying what needs to be said. That's what leadership is all about. Hopefully a few more elected officials will decide to follow his example - controversial or not!