Hello, my name is Aaron Berc. I am here not only as a resident of Minneapolis, but as a concerned citizen and a member of Jewish Community Action or JCA. Members of the Jewish Community, and JCA, reflect upon our Jewish teachings and traditions to illuminate ethical and moral obligations we see not only in the Jewish community, but in the community at large as well. It is the tradition of the Jewish people to speak out against these injustices. I want to share why this issue is so important to me, and why sentencing guidelines should weigh on each member of the general public’s conscience.
In February of this year, I was called upon to carry out my duty and serve as a juror on a criminal drug case in Hennepin County. This was a new experience for me, and something I am sure to not forget anytime soon. I will not share many details from the case, but I will say that it involved a young black man living on the North Side of Minneapolis, who was charged with 1st degree possession of a narcotic. During the trial, which lasted for a week, I felt a tremendous burden was placed upon me, to determine a man’s innocence or guilt. I cannot speak for the other jurors, but that week, I hardly slept, and when I did sleep I was haunted with the reality that this man’s future was in my hands.
As you know, jurors are told not to look into typical sentences while on jury duty as it may affect their decision as to innocence or guilt. I complied with this rule. After finding the young man guilty, I only learned of his sentence several months after the trial ended, when the Judge wrote the jurors to tell of the outcome of the convicted’ s sentencing hearing . 86 months. Over seven years of prison time.
During the trial, we were able to see the evidence against the defendant. We were told, shown, and able to hold the narcotics found in his residence. The three dollars in quarters I used to do my laundry last night both weighed more, and took up more physical volume than the amount of narcotics found in the defendant’s residence.
Seven years is not a just sentence. Seven years is gratuitous.
For the last ten months, the decision of finding the defendant guilty has not been the heaviest burden on my conscience, because as the law was written, and given the evidence presented, the conviction was rational. What has kept me up at night, what has kept me angry, and what has me here speaking to you today - trying to affect change for the better - is the harshness with which the convicted was sentenced. As you know, Minnesota has some of the longest controlled substances sentences in the country, and the threshold weights for crimes in the first degree are irresponsibly low.
Even with the crime rate in Minnesota dropping, our prisons are overflowing with people; this is due in part to their protracted sentences. As citizens, and community members, this is a moral crisis for which we all share the burden. We all are jurors. We are keeping our neighbors in prison for far too long, sentencing them to punishments that do not fit their crimes. At this very moment, the future of our neighbors is still in our hands. It is time for us to reduce the sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenses, and turn our State into a State of Refuge. A place where we rehabilitate and educate our neighbors, while putting them in positions to succeed with when they return to society with opportunities to better themselves and their families.