Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The end run around criminal justice reform

I told anyone who would listen that you just can't trust some of these folks when it comes to criminal justice reform. For them, it's forever 1995, and they can't find enough people (outside of their own family and friends, mind you) to pack into a penitentiary. 

So in spite of the advancements in sentencing laws that were just signed by Governor Bryant yesterday, the conferees on SB 2430 added a provision to that bill that would punish any two individuals who work together to shoplift anything of any value with up to 20 YEARS IN PRISON. Notice I said "anything of value". That's because the conference report makes no distinction between felony or misdemeanor shoplifting. 

So, what does this mean in reality if this bill passes? It means that come July 1, if two college freshmen decided to go steal a six-pack of beer from the local convenience store, they'd be arrested, charged with a felony, have to post felony bonds, face indictment, and stand trial before a jury of twelve. If convicted, the judge could then sentence them to up to 20 years in the penitentiary. Can't we find something better to do with our time?

I have no doubt that the conferees will respond by saying that this bill isn't aimed at college students being stupid, but rather at organized theft rings that go after retailers in places like Flowood. Here's the thing, though: in life, it ain't who you aim for, it's who you hit. 

I could have sworn it was that exact realization that led to sentencing reform this year. I guess I was wrong. 

For the record, the conferees who gave us this monstrosity are all attorneys who should know better. They are: Sen. Brice Wiggins (R - Pascagoula), Sen. Sally Doty (R - Brookhaven), Rep. Andy Gipson (R - Braxton), Rep. Dennis DeBar (R - Leakesville), and Rep. Joey Hood (R - Ackerman). Sen. Hob Bryan (D - Amory) was a conferee, but he refused to sign the conference report.

My instincts tell me that Sen. Wiggins is just trying to save his DNA collection bill, to which the problematic language was added, and that Rep. Gipson pushed for the addition in response to lobbying from retailers and Rankin County law enforcement who weren't happy with the way Gipson's sentencing reform law handled shoplifting. 

Floor action is expected today. 

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