Monday, December 11, 2006

Even prosecutors see the problems . . .

The Wichita Eagle reported some trepidation, even from prosecutors, regarding Kansas' newly enacted "Jessica's Law." Of course, defenders all along were warning that such severe mandatory sentences would probably result in a lot more trials and a lot less agreed-upon resolution of cases. As this article notes, it is seldom beneficial for a child to have to testify at a trial--at least if there is another alternative. Under a "Jessica's Law" prosecution, there is rarely another alternative.

On a side comment, I have been bothered for some time about the political realities of sentencing laws--which seem to naturally gravitate upwards with no end in sight. As the senator recognizes in the article, any legislator that ever proposes or supports any measure that legitimately and wisely suggests any sort of reduction in any sort of sentencing provision is labelled "soft on crime."

Even the sentencing commission, which is supposed to be somewhat neutral in its advice to the legislature, seems to be bogged down with this problem, being populated with lots of politicians. We saw PMo really hammered (albeit unsuccessfully) this last election cycle for his support while on the sentencing commission of some measures to restore some proportionality to a small number of sentencing provisions.

I wonder if there needs to be something analogous to the Base Closing Commissions that we have seen in the national legislature? Maybe a provision that no voting member of the sentencing commission can be in public office or eligible for public office for some term of years. And then a provision that recommendations from the sentencing commission would be adopted unless a majority votes against. Something that would give politicians sufficient cover to allow a sentencing commission to propose "smart-on-crime" sentencing laws, not just ever increasing sentences. I don't know how something like this could ever be constitutionally-supported, but it just seems like the current system almost makes it impossible to have a rationale debate about sentencing laws.

A fact not noted in the article is that, if the prosecutors are wrong and convictions occur at the same rate under "Jessica's Law," the sentencing commission projects an exponential increase in prison population, which would probably require addition of a maximum security prison in the next decade--a costly proposition.

A later Hutch News article discussed some legislators' perspectives on the issue.

[Note: the links to the Wichta Eagle and Hutch News articles have expired.]

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