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Uniform Sentences Urged by Panel [The Dominion Post]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Fairmont Bureau Chief
The Dominion Post

FAIRMONT—More rigid jail sentences for convicted murderers and less stringent sentences for white-collar criminals are a sample of the changes Attorney General Charlie Brown has proposed in a bill before the state Legislature.

“Murder draws the same sentence as armed robbery,” Brown said Thursday, “and that should not be.”

Brown, joined by a panel of Marion County law enforcement personnel at a press conference, said he is confident the bill will pass this legislative session. But because it is rare that a bill passes the first time around, he said, if necessary “we will be back next year.”

Nonetheless, he says he is encouraged. “The bill seems to have a lot of support in the House, and there is a lot of political power behind it.”

A 17-member uniform criminal sentencing commission has worked in the past 18 months to come up with a bill that will offer sentencing that is proportionate to the crime committed, according to Marion County Circuit Court Judge Fred Fox, who chaired the commission.

“I supports the legislation because it will bring stability to disproportionate aspects of sentencing,” he said, noting the bill will mostly affect criminals who are repeat offenders of criminal acts. As the law reads now, recidivism [habitual criminals convicted of a second felony] would have an additional five years added to the end of their term.

County Prosecuting Attorney Monty Brown said he agreed recidivism was a problem prosecutors around the state were working to amend.

“‘This bill gets at people who have chosen crime as their life’s goal,” Brown said. “I am hopeful the bill will have an overall effect in the state because proportionate sentencing really says that as a state, we really have our act together.”

Code sections that would be affected by the proposed legislation include a change of penalty for crimes against persons.

For example:

• Murder in the first degree presently holds a jail sentence of 5-18 years in jail, which would be increased to a sentence of 10-20 years.

• The sentence for voluntary manslaughter won would go from 1-5 years 5-10 years; involuntary manslaughter would go from 2-10 years to 2-15 years.

• A person convicted of assault during commission or attempt to commit a felony is presently charged with 2-10 years and would be sentenced to one year in confinement and not subject to suspension or probation.

• Other sentences for crimes against persons charged with robbery or attempted robbery changes from a 10-year jail term to 5-20 years.

• But, sentences for crimes against property would be lessened over-all. Burning of a dwelling would be changed from a 2-20 year sentence to 2-15 years in prison; burglary convictions, from 1-15 years to 2-10 years; larceny, from 1-10 years to 1-5; and receiving or disposing of property, from a 1-10 year sentence to 1-5, or confinement in jail up to one year and a $500 fine.

Embezzlement sentences would decrease in the proposed bill. For instance, a public servant or bank employee charged with a larceny would be sentenced to 1-5 years or confinement in the county jail and a $500 fine. Falsifying accounts would result in a 1-5 year sentence. And shoplifting offenders, who presently serve a 1-10-year sentence, would serve 2-10 years under the new law.

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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