Advisory commission recommends new sentencing system

30 June 2004


Advisory commission recommends new sentencing system


Contact: Judge Michael Wolff, commission chair, 573-751-6644
Gary Kempker, director, Department of Corrections, 573-751-2389

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A new system of recommended criminal sentences is the centerpiece of the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission's Report on Recommended Sentencing that was submitted today. As required by law, the Commission submitted the report to the governor, the speaker of the house, and the president pro tem of the senate.

The new system of recommended sentences is designed to provide timely and useful information that will assist the court in fashioning a sentence that is just, proportionate, and that protects victims and society. The recommendations are based on data from actual sentencing practices of Missouri judges and the requirements of various sentencing laws.

"Judicial discretion is the cornerstone in sentencing in Missouri courts," the commission reports. "Sentencing in Missouri is at its best when the decision makers have accurate and timely information about the offender, the offenses, and the options available for sentencing."

In describing the new system of recommended sentences, the commission abandons the phrase "sentencing guidelines" because the same phrase as used in federal courts describes a mandatory sentence. Unlike the federal system, the Missouri sentencing recommendations are not mandatory.

The most immediate effect of the new system will be a new format for presenting information about offenders and their crimes to judges before sentencing.  The new format, called a sentencing assessment report, will provide timely and useful information to judges and attorneys soon after a plea or finding of guilt. This report will give the sentencing court details about severity of the offense, the impact on victims and the offender's risk of re-offending. It will set forth the recommended sentence options and the appropriate correctional resources available – both in the community and in prison.

The new system of recommended sentences encourages the use of non-prison community-based alternatives, particularly for nonviolent offenders and for those who are not high risk for re-offending. Community-based sentences that involve intensive supervision, electronic monitoring, drug or alcohol treatment or other requirements are called "community structured sentences." The system also recommends a variety of 120-day prison programs for evaluation and treatment.

Under the new system, prison terms are recommended in lengths that vary with the severity of the crime and the risk that the offender will re-offend. A recommended sentence also may vary according to individual mitigating or aggravating circumstances, such as impact on the victim. Where a prison sentence may be contemplated, the parole board will inform the court of its guidelines so the judge, attorneys, offender and victims will have an estimate of the actual time the offender is likely to spend in prison.

In formulating the new system of recommended sentences, the commission worked closely with the department of corrections and the board of probation and parole. The report also incorporates many suggestions from focus groups held last month. The new system was well received by the focus groups, which comprised judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and probation officers from around the state.

The sentencing law passed in 2003 (Senate Bill 5) gives the commission one year from July 1, 2004, to implement the new system. During that time, the commission will engage in substantial efforts to explain to judges, attorneys and others how to use the system to obtain maximum information for sentencing decisions.

As required by law, the commission also reported on sentencing practices and disparities, by courts in the state's 45 judicial circuits, for various categories of offenses. It also analyzed sentencing in death penalty cases. These matters are addressed in the commission's report, available online at www.doc.missouri.gov and www.courts.mo.gov.

The 11-member commission includes: Judge Michael Wolff of the Supreme Court of Missouri; Judge Richard Callahan of the Cole County circuit court; Gary Kempker, department of corrections director; Marty Robinson, Missouri's chief public defender; Lafayette County Prosecutor W. Page Bellamy; Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler; Rep. Danielle Moore, R-Fulton; Robert Robinson, Ph.D., a member of the Missouri board of probation and parole from Jefferson City, Mo.; and private citizens Scott Decker, Ph.D., of St. Louis, Mo., Angela Robyn of Jefferson City, and Richard Sluder, Ph.D. of Warrensburg, Mo. The commission, which has had no budget, received assistance, data analysis, drafting work and focus group organization from the department of corrections, with cooperation from the office of state courts administrator.
 

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