Apr 25, 2008

Senate bill hikes repeat felon sentences


And on it goes to the house...

You'd think that these guys could put the political agendas aside for the greater good when it involves life and death decisions such as those that are before them right now.
This is probably the single most important thing that any legislator could ever be involved with.
To put it into another light, statistically speaking, their actions or inaction, regarding our states judicial reform will undoubtedly touch them or someone they care about, within their lifetime here in Connecticut,

After the Cheshire assaults and murders, I, along with many other Connecticut citizens implored our lawmakers to take immediate measures to fix the lax sentencing issues that are at the core of so many of the violent crimes committed within the state.
What we got for an answer was a lot of spin rhetoric stating that a 'this law or that law wouldn't have prevented this crime or that crime anyway, and the most infuriating statement of all-"No one in the ct judicial system could have foreseen or prevented what happened in Cheshire". "

I personally recoiled every time I heard a legislator or criminal justice proffesional say something to the effect that 'this crime, was just one crime in the grand scheme of things within this state and ' hey, our system runs fine for the most part and We are talking about spending a lot of money on our criminal justice system over just this one single crime"...
. 'There were also insinuations and sideways accusations by some legislators that they were only being called in for this special session because this murder happened in the suburbs to an affluent family" There were numerous references to the 'elephant in the room" that 'no one is talking about' but in effect they were talking about it, by referencing it so many times.

It turns out the 'the elephant' was the fact that certain legislators felt that the only reason they were even there at this session called by the governor, was the same reason that so much attention was being given to this crime at all; affluence and yes, there was also an implication that race-ie Caucasian- was part of the motivation behind the entire push by our government to fix whatever was wrong with our system, that allowed this crime to happen.

Within this same session, The appropriations committee co chair, who happened to be African American, dramatically listed the cost projections for the proposed crime reform bill, which included such things as a full time professional parole board with at least one criminal physcholigist on reserve staff.
With a scolding narrative laced with a disapproving air, heavy throughout the entire lecture, she huffed and puffed about how cost inefficient and unneccesary this crime bill was, along with projected measurements in human lives to match the dollars spent, that would be likely be affected by each of the changes within the reform In other words; how many fewer people will be slaughtered, raped, beaten senseless. battered, kidnapped and molested as a result of each criminal judicial reform within the proposal package.
Her bottomline; not enough lives saved or affected to justify the reform remedies proposed in the bill!

This all took place in a special session of our Connecticut general assembly in January of this year. Three months later, two senior women were made victim of another brutal home invasion which included kidnapping sexual assault murder of an older ill woman and the near fatal gunshot injury sustained by the sole survivor of the ordeal. The defendant in this case; another repeat sex offender who was recently released from prison.

I've got to have a closer look at the actual legislation that did pass the senate, but I can only hope that somewhere in all of it they have addressed the fact that prosecutors can too
easily get around these enhanced repeat offender laws by simply doing what they've been doing way too much of for years now-plea bargaining the charges down, IE so that they do not qualify any longer for the repeat offender sentencing.

For example; a man gets arrested for sexual assault 1 or 2, and stalking 2, the state 0ffers him a deal whereby they drop the stalking completely and drop the assault 2 down to three-no longer qualifying this particular dangerous offender for enhanced sentencing. His conviction record will bear the end result of this deal ie a sexual assault 3, if we're lucky. These are probable outcomes folks I am not pulling these things from the air. In recent years I have formed my own court watch groups and followed many, many cases-this is the norm here in Connecticut.

Ct legislators have not afforded a piece of co-legislation that requires every Connecticut prosecutor who "deals" down felony charges for crimes that originally qualify for repeat offender status-to formally explain on record why they are doing so, and until they do they are rendering this repeat offender legislation near-useless;

We are currently plea bargaining approx 97 percent or more of our criminal cases here in Connecticut. That is a whole lot of serious felonies being routinely dropped down for no other reason than the offender being given a deal to avoid trial, simply to "keep things moving" within our courts. Sure he/she will plead guilty, but guilty to what?--Not the original charges that he/she committed, but instead reduced charges; This means that those charges will be lowered in class, ie from a class b felony to a class C, a felony C to a misdemeanor A and so on and so forth.
And in cases with multiple charges committed within one actionable crime, at least one charge altogether is often dropped, just for the sake of "dealing".

Now bear in mind that many of these prosecutors are going to want to plea most cases rather than prepare for a trial, its easier, faster and they still get paid, no matter how they "resolve" the violent crime on that piece of paper in front of them. Sounds awful yet too often true.

It seems that in too many cases we are unwilling to seriously prosecute in this state, until someone has been killed, and often even then, only if its in a particularly brutal manner. We must become a more evolved people than this!

At the center of serious assault and sexual assault cases are people-people whose bodies and lives have become desecrated by the crimes committed against them. This can and often does include close family members of the victim s as well. This is a huge chain of despair and suffering that is literally wrapping around our state---
What of their justice? Thier rights, thier healing? This lack of justice and thus validation only compounds the emotional and physical damage sustained from the crimes committed against them.

As well the men that commit these crimes almost always escalate to something more serious down the line, needlessly creating more victims, when we the state of Connecticut- had the chance to remove them from law abiding society-and we didn't. We see this over and over again. Our legislators must put a stop to this runaway plea dealing, whatever it takes.

Within this bill that just passed, some money has been allocated for the hiring of more prosecutors, and that's certainly a good start to be sure, because we will clearly need more manpower if we are to be trying more violent crime cases. But as plea bargaining violent crimes is not going to stop, there needs to be something in place that holds our prosecutors accountable for decisions regarding these plea deals for any and all violent crimes.

The trouble is that prosecutors are lawyers and as such, they are experts at rationalizing and blurring the lines of truth. They cannot be allowed to simply proclaim that a particular violent crime case had "weaknesses" and thus plea it down to lesser charges. As well we should be tracking the records
of our prosecutors in each court district. How many cases are they plea bargaining vs trying every year and where their are huge disparities, investigate.

You see, everyone keeps referring to judges discretion, but with a 97 per plea bargaining, it is the prosecutors that offer these deals and then present it to the judge, who usually gives a perfunctory nod. It has been my experience that when a judge does question the resolution of a case with clearly dropped down charges, the prosecutor then "sells it" to the judge. Once in a while you will see a tough judge who is not led by the states attorneys office within that court-even regarding cases that are still in pre-trial. They will simply not allow a plea bargain that involves ultra light or non existent prison sentences.

We need more of these judges, as well as a mechanism that insures one judge hearing one case through from beginning to end. The reason that one judge handling a case throughout the pre-trial process is important is because otherwise the various judges only hear bits of the picture, if that, especially one that comes onto a case months and months after its happened and the prosecutor is already poised to deal it down, then the judge may only hear what the prosecutor wants him/ her to hear regarding that case, ie because if the actual severity of the crimes is clear to the judge, they may very well question the prosecutors judgement regarding a plea decision.

To be continued..

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