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November 20, 2006

Might California finally create a sentencing commission?

This Sacramento Bee article encouragingly suggests that it may be only a matter of time before California finally joins the ranks of states with a sentencing commission.  Here are some highlights from the story:

Facing a double whammy of a population cap and a court decision that threatens to wipe out the state's sentencing law, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is considering a sentencing commission that would help decide who goes to prison and for how long. "We are willing to engage in sentencing reform," Corrections Secretary James Tilton said in an interview with The Bee, adding that as part of the discussion, the Schwarzenegger administration is looking at establishing a sentencing commission.

Such panels take different forms but can allow states to manage prison populations by altering the approach to sentencing.  The idea was rejected seven times in California between 1984 and 1998 -- three times by gubernatorial vetoes and four times by legislative committees.  But a new urgency has slammed down on the state's prison system. Legal motions filed last week in three pending federal cases already decided in favor of the defendants are demanding that the prison system cap its population. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating on a case that very well could render to the trash heap the way judges have been sentencing convicted defendants in California for nearly 30 years....

Twenty-two states already have sentencing commissions, as does the federal government and the District of Columbia...  In California, sentencing commissions met disfavor from Republican Govs. George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, each of whom vetoed bills (Wilson twice) that would have established such panels.  Deukmejian, in a 1984 veto message, said they threatened to undermine the determinate sentencing law and took away from the Legislature's accountability.  Wilson, in a 1994 veto, suspected that a sentencing commission would favor the "discredited" indeterminate system where judges had a wide range of options and that it would reinstate a "lenient" parole board that would let too many prisoners out too early.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Los Angeles last week that "everything should be on the table" when it comes to fixing the prisons.  He added, "I am open-minded about this, and that's how we're going to solve that problem."  State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, slated to become the Senate's public safety chairwoman when the Legislature reconvenes, discussed prisons with the Republican governor in Mexico during his trade mission earlier this month. She said a sentencing commission is "near the top of my list" as a prison problem-solver. "The concept is sound," Romero said. "It's something I'm working to craft legislation around."

November 20, 2006 at 07:22 AM | Permalink


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Hopefully, California won't go back to the bad old days--the recent story of a paralyzed police officer in LA is emblematic--a career criminal and a soft criminal justice system. Of course, one should never underestimate a liberal's desire to foist criminals upon us. This desire, when coupled with a federal court order (from a liberal judge) and crow about saving money, the calls to release violent criminals get very loud. Of course, paralyzed cops and other preventable crime victims get lost in the equation.

The other issue facing California is the presence of large numbers of alien offenders in California's prison system. Certainly, California should be able to figure out a way to give them "bare bones" incarceration (i.e., less access to medical care, and no access to rehabilitation programs etc.)

Posted by: federalist | Nov 20, 2006 8:27:10 AM

That's right ... liberals don't mind living among criminals. There's a secret signal liberals send out so that the criminals know which denizens not to attack. I've heard that you can get a receiver for $19.99 at Best Buy. Or just go to your local soup kitchen (or other gathering of do-gooder liberals) where they hand them out for free.

Posts like those from "federalist" are why free speech is so valuable. The idiots will show themselves sooner or later.

Posted by: | Nov 20, 2006 2:22:47 PM

Why spend $19.99 or go to the trouble of visiting a soup kitchen? Most federalists have tin foil in their kitchen, most likely on the counter for quick access, next to their guns.

Posted by: George | Nov 20, 2006 2:32:45 PM

That's right, I am the idiot. Having personally experienced the lunacy of revolving door criminal justice policies (which come from the left), I get wary when people talk about letting offenders out. I know, given past history, that it is unlikely that there will be much discrimination with respect to who is let go. We've seen this before. Bleeding heart judge worries his or her heart sick about all those poor criminals behind bars. And suddenly we have constitutional rights devised out of whole cloth and all sorts of consent decrees. The result: cases like Kenneth McDuff.

I understand that prison space is scarce, and that it makes sense to use alternatives to incarceration for selected cases, but can we just, for one second, worry about increased victimization caused by the release of criminals upon society. Please? There are a hell of a lot of preventable murders that have happened because of insane release policies.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 20, 2006 2:41:59 PM

This is sort of related to your entries regarding the insanely high incarceration rate in the United states. One thing I have reflected on recently is the apparent impotence of (at least some) sentencing commmissions and legislatures with regard to such considering the real impact of sentencing policy. In Kansas in the recent election cycle a prosecutor/sentencing commissioner that ran for (and won) AG was hammered based on extremely modest proposals to attempt to restore some proportionality to a sentencing system that were later adopted by the legislature. When I have discussed sentencing issues with legislators context, there seems to be such a great reluctance to ever talk about reasonableness because anyone suggesting anything other than increasing sentences for everyone is labelled "soft-on-crime" Maybe sentencing commissions need some sort of restriction on voting members who are (or will be in the near future) elective candidates. My experience here in little old Kansas leads me to think that a sentencing commissions populated by legislators/judges/and prosecutors that are worried about future elections are not likely to ever be able to really make real proposals that are based on good policy-they just worry about not being labelled "soft-on-crime."

Posted by: Randall Hodgkinson | Nov 20, 2006 2:52:31 PM

Frankly, rather than inventing new rights out of whole cloth, I'd be perfectly content if we would just enforce the constitutional provisions we've already got.

It's telling that the tuff-on-crime crowd supports searches in violation of the 4th Amendment and having that evidence nevertheless introduced at trial ... at which, of course, the jury only performs "low-level gatekeeping" ... the REAL trial to be had at sentencing, where the judge (in violation of the 6th Amendment) finds by a preponderance of the evidence (in violation of the 5th Amendment) what crime you REALLY committed. Then, we sentence people for ridiculously minor crimes to terms of imprisonment which, by any common understanding of the phrase, qualify as "cruel and unusual" (in violation of the 8th Amendment). And yet it's liberals are accused of creating rights out of whole cloth.

No, sir, it's you who wish we had some other Constitution than the one we do. I don't need to make up anything past what's there. People fail to realize that we are not creating a criminal justice system only to benefit criminals. It is for the rest of us too. You are naive to think it impossible that there, but for the grace of God, go you and I.

Posted by: | Nov 20, 2006 3:12:31 PM

federalist, your concern is valid but your argument goes something like this:

Judge: Brad Wilkins?
Wilkins: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge: You're charged with petty theft. How do you plead?
Wilkins: Guilty, Your Honor.
Judge: I'm changing your name to Kenneth McDuff and sentencing you to death.
Wilkins: Your Honor!

The bailiff takes him away.

Judge: Judy Wright?
Wright: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge: You are charged with possession of a controlled substance. How do you plead?
Wright: I am guilty, Your Honor.
Judge: Let the record so reflect. I'm changing your name to Kenneth McDuff and sentencing your death.
Wright: Thank you, Your Honor. Will I get a last meal? I'm hungry and want...

The bailiff takes her away.

Posted by: George | Nov 20, 2006 5:18:23 PM

You know our sentencing system needs serious reform when you have a first time offender - a female county embezzler - doing 20 years at Valley State Prison for Women - more than many murderers get, and bunking in with Diane Downs who shot her kids. (true story).

Posted by: Cocoa | Dec 4, 2006 9:06:00 PM

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