U.S. District Judge Addresses Criminal Justice Reform

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA — The judge who ruled that state law doesn’t shield medical marijuana providers from federal prosecution says he thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down a state law banning corporate spending on campaigns.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy offered his personal opinions Monday during a lunch discussion at City Club of Missoula, the Missoulian reported.

“You can get up and leave if you want,” Molloy said before beginning his talk, “but I am not going to talk about wolves.”

Molloy made many rulings upholding federal protection for the predators until Congress stripped those federal protections in parts of five states under pressure from Western lawmakers.

Molloy instead addressed civil discourse and the need for reforms in a criminal justice system that includes mandatory sentences for some crimes.

As to the discourse, Molloy recounted an anonymous voicemail in which the caller repeatedly cited his First Amendment rights and proceeded, “in very foul and colorful language that borders on a threat,” to tell the judge why his medical marijuana ruling from last month was wrong.

“The First Amendment is great, but sometimes I think it’s exercised with a little bit less thoughtfulness than imagined by the Founding Fathers,” Molloy said.

That message was referred to federal marshals, as are a number of calls to the judge’s office.

Molloy also talked about sentencing reform.

“In my mind, there’s a need to have a conversation about the criminal justice system,” he said. But he said such reforms likely won’t be possible until the issue is “discussed outside of the context of somebody getting un-elected because they’re soft on crime.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision allowing federal judges leeway in departing from sentencing guidelines was helpful, he said.

Molloy also said it is difficult to impose mandated minimum sentences in cases with widely different circumstances.

Consider the case, he said, of “an Eagle Scout, a valedictorian” who comes across child pornography on the Internet and keeps looking. “That’s a person who’s completely different from the father making videos and putting them on the Internet of himself having sex with his daughter.”

“It is very difficult to me as a judge to deal with these cases,” he said.