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Old 04-16-2003, 06:46 PM
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danielle danielle is offline
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Default Commission lays out four-year plan to change sentencing laws

By PHILLIP RAWLS
The Associated Press
4/16/03 3:49 PM


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Three years of work to restructure Alabama's sentencing laws stalled Wednesday when a House committee voted down a key bill from the Alabama Sentencing Commission.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 against a bill that would raise the dollar amounts that define levels of property crimes in the state. The Alabama Retail Association opposed raising the limits because of concerns it could soften the punishment for shoplifters and reduce the law's effect as a deterrent.

"You can't fight the Retail Association," said Lynda Flynt, executive director of the Sentencing Commission.

Rep. Marcel Black, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the Sentencing Commission's legislation, postponed action on the other two bills in the commission's package after the first one failed. Black said the commission would regroup and try again later in the legislative session.

Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor got the Legislature to create the Sentencing Commission in 2000 to recommend ways to remove the widespread disparity in sentencing and put some truth into the length of a sentence.

The commission -- consisting of lawyers, judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and other state and county officials -- recommended the Legislature begin the process by considering three bills to:

--Require the commission to develop voluntary sentencing guidelines for judges to use in hopes of getting more uniform sentences for similar crimes.

--Expand community corrections programs by authorizing county commissions to establish such programs and setting up a division with the state Department of Corrections to work with them. The bill's goal is to have more nonviolent offenders working and paying restitution and fewer going to prison.

--Raise the monetary levels for some property crimes, most of which haven't been changed in three decades. The bill's provisions included increasing the threshold between misdemeanor theft and felony theft from $250 to $500.

An opponent of the property crimes bill, Rep. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said that under the current system, someone who stole something valued between $250 and $500 would likely be imprisoned. With the changes, the person wouldn't go to prison, Brewbaker said.

But Flynt said merchants would be better off because people convicted of misdemeanors are more likely to pay restitution to their victims than people convicted of a felony.

"If they'd rather build prisons, then that's their choice," she said.

Pryor said it's easy to maintain the status quo, but state leaders need to have the courage to address problems in the criminal justice system.

"It's hard to change things for the better in Alabama, but we'll keep trying," he said Wednesday.

Voting against the bill, in addition to Brewbaker, were Reps. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette; Jamie Ison, R-Mobile; Albert Morton, R-Birmingham; William Thigpen, D-Fayette; and Randy Ward, R-Anniston.

Voting for the bill, in addition to Black, were Reps. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham; Priscilla Dunn, D-Bessemer; John Robinson, D-Scottsboro; and Jack Venable, D-Tallassee.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, is sponsoring the same legislation in the Senate. Smitherman said his committee will hold a public hearing on the bills April 30.

Like Black, he said proponents of the bills have more work to do.
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Monica Danielle
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On September 22, 2003, my better half came home after 657 days in an Alabama prison!!!

And he's now forever free - passing away from this life and into the next - on January 9, 2010.

My Sweet Wayne
January 21, 1954 - January 9, 2010

I'll always love you.
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