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July 5, 2008

A sentencing commission working on criminal code improvements and revision

I am not quite sure what impressese me more: the fact that my home state sentencing commission is working seriously on criminal code improvements or the fact that my home town newspaper has this entertaining article on the commission's work, headlined "State commission has plan to translate revised code."  Here are snippets from the article:

Lacking plot and drama, the Ohio Revised Code will never read like a J.K. Rowling or Danielle Steel novel.  Still, some think legislators should strive to make Ohio's law of the land more readable to those who didn't graduate cum laude from law school.

Among the duties of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission is to find ways to make the revised code more reader friendly.  To that end, it has crafted an 88-page report that suggests how to make some felony sentencing statutes easier on the brain and provides general guidelines to lighten text throughout the code.

"So much of the code is hard to read, not just for an average citizen who might be inquiring what their situation might be. It's hard for lawyers, prosecutors, judges and legislators," said David Diroll, executive director of the commission.

The cynical view is that laws are purposely written to confuse mere mortals, ensuring permanent employment opportunities for lawyers.  "It isn't quite that, but there is a hubris sometimes that goes with doing this sort of work, that you want to show what you know," said Diroll, who used to work for the Legislative Service Commission, the office that turns legislators' ideas into legal text....

The Sentencing Commission picked 16 felony sentencing statutes that it helped craft in 1996 but have since been heavily revised.  It says the laws can be reduced from 30,211 words to 14,595, a 52 percent cut, without losing any meaning.

I would be interested to know if any other state sentencing commissions are doing work like this on state criminal code improvement, and eager to vote for any federal candidate about making code revisions a key part of the US Sentencing Commission's modern mandate.

July 5, 2008 at 09:16 AM | Permalink


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The MD sentencing commission made several recommendations to a code revision committee run by the state courts in the course of examining statutes to determine what the sentencing guidelines should be for new offenses, which meant comparing them to existing statutes, many of which were confusing and sometimes contradictory. And WI made code revision a major part of its initial sentencing reform work which also led to its second commission, which has now failed, leaving the revised code as its major accomplishment. I understand that the DC commission has recently been given the task there as well. It's not exactly what David talks about in OH, but code work isn't that uncommon and is arguably one of the more important functions a commission could perform.

Posted by: Michael Connelly | Jul 5, 2008 9:35:26 AM

Illinois has a broadly based committee that has been working on criminal code revision for several years and I don't know their current stage of progress. They did hold a conference on the subject recently.

Iowa has appointed a joint house/senate code revision study committee with six legislators, a judge, two prosecutors, a public defender, two law professors a parole board member and a correction commission member. They have assembled a part time staff by borrowing from legislative and state offices. They have recently split up into subcommittees and they are scheduled to start meeting this month.

The last major code revision was over twenty years ago and the code has grown in size by a large factor and is spread over six volumes. It is very likely that the revised code will be combined into a single volume, duplicate code removed and revisions made to simplify and clarify the code. It is difficult to see how they can do all this without taking up the issue of appropriate sanctions and that will be when the heat will be generated.

Posted by: John Neff | Jul 5, 2008 11:10:20 AM

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