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January 19, 2007

A push for a sentencing commission in California

As detailed by stories in the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee, the debate over sentencing reform in California is about to get real interesting.  Here are some particulars from the LA Times:

Launching what promises to be one of the year's fiercest debates in the Capitol, the Senate's top Democrats on Thursday moved toward reforming California's byzantine criminal sentencing system.  Unveiling legislation to create a sentencing review commission, Senate leader Don Perata of Oakland and Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles said California should join 16 other states now revisiting the question of who goes to prison and for how long.

The lawmakers also urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to use his executive powers to create an interim working group that would begin collecting and analyzing sentencing data as early as February. "We can't wait," Romero said, noting that prison overcrowding is so severe that federal judges may impose a cap on the inmate population, now at 172,000. "Public safety is not served with a broken corrections system."

Last month, Schwarzenegger proposed a sentencing commission of his own, part of a sweeping $10.9-billion prison building and reform plan.  The Republican governor did not specify what changes in penalties he favored but called for a 17-member panel that would suggest improvements to the Legislature.  Romero and Perata said that model lacked teeth and would doom any significant reform to failure.  The Democrats want the commission to have the power to tweak sentencing guidelines or create new ones and say its ideas should automatically take effect unless legislation is introduced to block it.

A spokesman for the governor had no specific comment on the proposal but said Schwarzenegger was "thrilled" that legislators shared his commitment to tackling the prison crisis.  Republican lawmakers were far from thrilled, arguing that the responsibility for setting or changing sentences for felons must remain squarely with the Legislature. Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) said suggesting that lawmakers "punt to a commission that has no accountability is a nonstarter." "They want to take the politics out of it," said Spitzer, who was a prosecutor before becoming an elected official. "But in my opinion, the politics is critical to making sure a liberal Legislature does not become more soft on crime."

January 19, 2007 at 07:15 AM | Permalink


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"They want to take the politics out of it," ... "But in my opinion, the politics is critical to making sure a liberal Legislature does not become more soft on crime."

While I do not have data on the success of sentencing commissions at reducing the amount of incarcerated prisoners (think USSC as a counter-example), I hope Mr. Spitzer recognizes that "politics" is how CA got their chronically overcrowded prison population and removing "politics" might be the perfect (only?) antidote. In fact, it's probably people like him who scream "liberal Legislature" that prevent CA's prison problem from being improved.

Posted by: DEJ | Jan 19, 2007 11:02:32 AM

I know a 55 year old woman in Los Angeles California who entered a guilty plea deal for grand theft charge (even though she insists she is not guilty in this case) through her attorney with a prosecutor and it was signed off by a judge. She did this because 10 years ago she had a prior due to being in a severe manic bipolar phase and she is afraid to go to jail. The court gave her approximately 6 months to come up with the money, and now when it's time for sentencing, which she was told would be no state prison/no must do jail (up to 1 year county but eligible to work release or probabtion or electronic monitoring)/restitution (which she paid in the amount of 50,000)/probation - the judge wants her to do either 16 months state prison or 6 months must do in county without officially being sentenced (his way around the getting out early) and then be brought back to him for probation after the 6 months. This woman was totally misinformed by all involved, and on top of that, she has severe bipolar 1 manic depression with multiple suicide attemtps. Her attorney never informed the court of her medical condition because he said the plea bargain deal for the sentence didn't warrant it. He said the judge wouldn't use the prior since she made a plea deal, but, in fact, the judge at time for sentencing relied heavily on the prior and didn't bother to look further into the file to see her medical condition at that time. Her attorney now says he will file a motion to change her plea and go to trial. That's not what she wants. She wants them to honor the plea bargain agreement. Any advice, please. This woman is supposed to show up in court on 1/26 to either go into custody or, if the judge permits her to change her plea, set a trial date. Unfortunately, after scraping up all the restitution and paying the attorney, she has almost no money left.

Posted by: julia demaria | Jan 19, 2007 5:16:38 PM

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