Forced to impose a sentence he deemed unjust, a Northern District of New York judge took sharp aim last week at a federal statute that required him to impose a life-without-parole term on a 32-year-old “relatively small-time drug dealer” with an IQ of 72.

Judge David N. Hurd said child rapists and murderers will go free on parole while Justin D. Powell languishes in prison for life, largely because the defendant was convicted of drug crimes twice during his teenage years, more than a decade before the instant offense. Because of those prior convictions, the sole sentencing option was life, Hurd said.

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