Pubdate: Sun, 02 Jun 2002
Source: Times Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2002 Times Daily
Author: Bernie Delinski


The Alabama Sentencing Commission has quite a balancing act on its hands.

The commission wants to establish more truth in sentencing, eliminate large 
disparities in sentences for similar crimes, find a system that allows 
judges to retain discretion in sentences and arrange an array of sentencing 
options for judges.

"We're trying to weigh all the angles," said state Rep. Marcel Black of 
Colbert County, who is on the 17-member commission.

The Legislature created the commission in 2000 to form a comprehensive 
sentencing plan for Alabama.

It has a detailed initial report and intends to present a full report to 
the Legislature in 2003.

The initial report lists as commission tasks for 2002:

- -- Examine the "good time" laws that let inmates out early.

- -- Examine truth-in-sentencing issues.

- -- Collect sentencing data in Alabama to get a perspective on current 

- -- Promote drug courts for drug offenders and expanded use of sentencing 

- -- Provide peer assistance through the Community Corrections Team.

"This past year, we've been studying Alabama procedure and the effects of 
sentencing in Alabama on the prison population," commission Executive 
Director Lynda Flynt said.

Black said the commission looks at the types of sentences issued for 
similar crimes throughout Alabama.

"We have an eye toward having a kind of truth in sentencing and more 
balanced sentencing, where if you commit a crime in southeast Alabama, the 
same crime in northwest Alabama would pretty much have the same sentence," 
said Black, who is on the committee by virtue of his position as chairman 
of the House's Judiciary Committee.

Black said the commission wants an accurate idea of someone's sentence, 
without restricting circuit court judges.

Flynt said they also are looking into sentencing practices and structures 
in other states.

As an example, Virginia has a point system. The higher the points, the more 
costly the sentence.

An example given by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission shows an 
assault offender. The person gets between 1 and 7 points for the crime. An 
attempted assault is 1 point. An assault causing malicious injury is 7 points.

Points also add up for reasons such as being a repeat offender, the type of 
weapon and seriousness of the injuries. A chart gives a standard sentence 
and sentence range for those points.

Kansas uses a grid system. Grids are established with the criminal history 
categories along the horizontal axis and crime severity level along the 
vertical axis, according to the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Desk Reference 
Manual. There are separate grids for drug and nondrug crimes.

Criminal history axis runs from letters A to I in categories, with A the 
worst criminal history and I the least criminal history.

Severity axis levels range from numbers 1-10 for nondrug offenses and 1-5 
for drug offenses.

The lower the number, the more severe it is.

Each grid box has three numbers. The middle one is the recommended sentence 
for the crime. The highest number is the sentence for aggravated 
circumstances that call for a higher sentence, and the lowest is the number 
for mitigating circumstances that call for a lesser sentence.

For example, the grid for letter I along the horizontal axis and number 10 
along the vertical axis calls for a six-month sentence, with seven months 
being the worst sentence and five months being the easiest sentence.

The grid for A-1 calls for 620 months, with 653 being the highest sentence 
and 592 the lowest.

The grid does not apply to first-degree murder and treason because of the 
severity of the crimes.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Ariel