The July 17 editorial "Sentenced for Speaking" challenged the rationality of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The case in question involved the life sentence given to Ali Al-Timimi, the spiritual leader of a Virginia group of would-be jihadists. Mr. Timimi gave sermons that urged his followers to train for combat against U.S. troops who were fighting Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

None of his congregants ever fought in Afghanistan, so The Post reasoned that Mr. Timimi was given an excessively harsh sentence "for words that had little effect." The failure of his words to result in the killing or wounding of U.S. troops in Afghanistan renders his life sentence disproportionate to the offense, according to the editorial.

I disagree. Part of the purpose of sentencing criminals is to dissuade others from carrying out similar felonious acts. To base punishment mainly on the success of the criminal venture seriously dilutes the effectiveness of deterrence: When one reduces the certainty of punishment, people are more likely to commit the crime.

Consider the placing of a bomb in a crowded pizzeria. Would failure of the device to detonate lessen in any way the horror of the crime or the need for an effective deterrence by a severe sentence?


Silver Spring