September 3, 2007
California sentencing commission complications
This article from the Sacramento Bee, entitled "Doubts on sentencing plans: Governor isn't likely to sign either of two bills creating panels, aide says," highlights that a sentencing commission is still not a certainty in California. Here are the basics:
With the legislative session heading into the home stretch, an ambitious plan to overhaul California's criminal sentencing structure is facing dim prospects in the Governor's Office. Two bills are circulating in the Legislature that would create a California sentencing commission with the ability to change the length of prison terms. But a spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested it is highly unlikely that either commission bill would get signed into law.
"We're open to debate, but the governor has serious reservations about what's being proposed in the Legislature," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said in an interview. "He thinks that final authority (on sentencing laws) should be with elected officials who are accountable to the people."
State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, wrote one of two sentencing commission bills now pending in the Capitol and the one that legislative staffers believe has the best chance of making it to the governor's desk. She said forming a sentencing commission represents perhaps the state's last and best hope to prevent a specially empaneled three-judge federal court from slamming a population cap on California's massively overcrowded prison system.
September 3, 2007 at 10:25 AM | Permalink
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It's one thing to have a sentencing commission that studies, make recommendations, or even establishes guidelines within legislatively determined limits. It is quite another to have a commission for the purpose of preventing the Great Unwashed from getting their filthy little fingers on sentencing policy and reserving those decisions to the Philosopher Kings of the Ivory Tower. Romero's bill should be defeated, but if it passes the Governator should veto it.
Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 3, 2007 11:45:25 AM
"It is quite another to have a commission for the purpose of preventing the Great Unwashed from getting their filthy little fingers on sentencing policy and reserving those decisions to the Philosopher Kings of the Ivory Tower."
I would agree that there are two very different approaches to the level of authority granted to a sentencing commission, but I think your comment unfairly characterizes those who serve on them as making some sort of power grab by academia.
Sentencing commissions don't create themselves, so the Philosopher Kings appointed to them haven't exactly staged a coup. It's equally valid with your comment to say that a sentencing commission with broad authority (i.e. rulemaking-level authority over sentencing that requires a legislative override to prevent from taking effect) is a method for legislators - the folks who are supposed to act as those fingers of the 'Great Unwashed' - to dodge the political consequences of revising sentencing laws. To stick with your metaphor - the people's representatives create commissions so they can avoid enacting sentencing laws with the legislators' own fingerprints in the text.
You get a sentencing commission because you have a capacity problem in your prisons (whatever our other, incidental goals are, like reducing undesirable disparity). The only ways out of that capacity problem are to build more prisons, let some folks out, put fewer in, or shorten the duration for which you put folks in for some crimes. A sentencing commission gets created by the representatives of the people when those same representatives can't find the money to do the first and don't want to take the election-year heat for doing any of the other three.
That said, I infer from your comment that you prefer the advisory model of a sentencing commission, which leaves the real decision-making authority in the hands of the people's representatives. I agree. I like that one better, too. I just don't see the value in attacking the folks who serve on the other versions by imputing to them a snobbish disrespect for their fellow citizens.
Posted by: | Sep 4, 2007 10:33:14 AM
"It's equally valid with your comment to say that a sentencing commission with broad authority ... is a method for legislators - the folks who are supposed to act as those fingers of the 'Great Unwashed' - to dodge the political consequences of revising sentencing laws."
That is not only equally valid, it is exactly what I meant. My comment was directed at Sen. Romero and her ilk.
Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 4, 2007 2:20:11 PM