Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL) has issued a statement that the governing board of the organization has voted to publicly oppose the mandatory sentencing guidelines.
The sentencing guidelines are billed by supporters as being a way to avoid overcrowding in prisons by using other methods of correction, such as probation, for nonviolent offenders. These include theft, property and drug cases, unless there are aggravating or mitigating factors. It also, proponents argue, standardizes sentences for offenders across the state.
“However, with the prison population near double capacity, these guidelines are severely slanted toward non-prison sentences and effectively eliminate the habitual offender act for all property crimes,” the VOCAL statement said.
The group’s main argument against the guidelines is the minimization of the victim in the sentencing.
“The mandatory guidelines remove the discretion from the judge, and he or she must follow the guideline formula regardless of any other factors,” VOCAL’s statement continued. “One important factor that a judge considers is the voice of the victim of these crimes.
“No longer will a victim’s impact statement, testimony in court or argument by the district attorney be any influence on the judge. The new mandatory sentencing guideline silences the voice of the victim and is in direct contrast with the Victim’s Bill of Rights and the very core of VOCAL.
The state board strongly encourages the Legislature to repeal this mandatory act in the next legislative session.”
Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair has opposed the sentencing guidelines from the beginning and spoke to the Alabama Sentencing Commission in June at the state’s judicial building in an effort to stop the guidelines.
He pointed out that, under the mandatory guidelines, an individual could be convicted of five felonies but serve no jail time.
Those in favor of the guidelines say that would be the exception instead of the rule because the commission of a crime while on probation would be considered an “aggravating” factor.
“The problem with that is, that means the district attorneys, the judges, have lost power,” Adair told the commission. “We have backed up. We now have to take on the added burden of proving that aggravating factor.”
Adair was further frustrated by the commission’s insistence that the measures would not reduce the prison population, but rather would increase the population of violent offenders. “If it’s not going to reduce the prison population, why do it?” Adair asked the commission.
The guidelines will take effect Oct. 1 statewide.