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December 21, 2009

Israel now having well-worn debate over sentencing guideline system

As detailed in this article from Israel, the usual suspects are having the usual debate over a proposal to adopt sentencing guidelines for that country. Here are the details:

A proposal to standardize prison sentences is expected to generate stormy debate in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee today, with the Public Defender's Office condemning the adoption of what it calls a "price list" that will encourage tougher sentences.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will attend the meeting to lend support for the plan, which passed its first reading in the Knesset in 2006 and is now due for second and third readings.

The bill aims to minimize the differences in the sentences meted out by different judges, by mandating establishment of specific sentences for certain offenses. The courts would still have the discretion to alter the severity of the punishment, depending on the circumstances. The bill provides sentencing guidelines and a list of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

"It's hard to believe that in the State of Isrel, after 60 years, the legislature has not yet bothered to define the guiding principles of punishment, or the mitigating and aggravating circumstances for sentencing, or to give the judge even minimal guidance in sentencing," Mazuz said in July 2006, when the bill was last discussed.

"The most important goal is to prevent inconsistency and inequality in sentencing," he added. "You don't need to conduct field research to know that there are gaps, sometimes very large ones, in the sentences handed out in the various courts ... for similar offenses in similar circumstances. Sometimes the differences are very significant."

Dana Pugach, director of the Noga Legal Center for Victims of Crime, wrote the law and justice committee that such a law would help increase public confidence in the justice system.

However, the Public Defender's Office opposes the legislation, and claims it would push judges to give harsher sentences, especially jail time. In a statement submitted to the committee, the agency also said the bill would "damage fundamental equality and social justice."

December 21, 2009 at 12:27 PM | Permalink

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