This paper will discuss of the current flawed policies in the criminal justice arena and provide recommendations on how to revise these mistakes to make the policies more effective. The primary consideration of the report is to maintain public safety and to implement cost-effective policies. As an expert in the field of criminal justice, the goal is to advise the Task Force by creating an Expert Panel and to present a report to the Governor based on the problematic areas of the criminal justice arena in the State of Florida. The following objectives of the report shall include: 1.) To provide the current state of crime by providing the Governor the current crime statistics for the last two-three years; 2.) Develop and implement an effective, evidence-based policy based on research on the worst practices in the corrections system; and
3.) To provide a study on the possibility of eliminating the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.
As a member of the Expert Panel, the main task is to advise Governor Scott on the state of crime and assist him in developing and implementing a criminal justice policy that will answer the question “Should mandatory sentencing guidelines be eliminated”?
One of the current problems that the courts have to deal with is sentencing laws. The most recent challenge is the implementation of the Three Strikes Law. This law serves as a guarantee for a longer prison sentence that provides severe punishment for an offender who has committed repeated felonies and was previously convicted authoring violent crimes. According to Walsh (2007), the main objective of the law is to combat recidivism after reports have revealed that most the criminals accelerate the gravity of their offenses over a lapse of time.
The members of the Congress have seen the importance of creating the Three-Strikes Law to serve as a preventive measure for offenders to commit more crimes. According to Walsh (2007), the mandatory sentences are within the discretion of prosecutors and judges. In the State of Florida, on the first of July in the year 1999, Florida started to impose hard-hitting new laws which required what they referred to as the “career criminals” to serve mandatory minimum sentences or periods of imprisonment. Such statute has been known as the Florida Three Strikes, or otherwise known as the “three-time violent felony offender” law (Russo and Russo, 2012). Based on this law, the judge is required to impose periods of sentences that range from five years to life imprisonment and it shall be based on the severity of the crime committed by the felon. However, there are certain repercussions that resulted in the implementation of this new law such as overcrowding of prisons that had affected the medical health and safety conditions of the inmates for lack of government funding to operate prison systems.
Review of Research and Policies
According to Russo and Russo (2012), under the present Florida Three-Strikes Law, the state must show that the accused has satisfied the five-criteria requirement in order for the accused to be allowed to qualify under the mandatory minimum penalties under the new law. These five criteria shall include: 1.) The offender should have been previously convicted for committing a violent felony twice. Under this statute, a withhold of adjudication shall qualify as one conviction; 2.) The conviction must occur on two separate occasions, and may include a third offense to which the accused is currently being sentenced; 3.) The current crime committed shall fall under the category of a violent felony such as robbery, murder, manslaughter, arson, sexual battery, kidnapping, among others; 4.) The current offense was committed while the accused was serving sentence that resulted from a conviction of another violent felony, or committed within five years after the previous conviction of a violent crime, or within five years after the completion of such sentence for committing the violent felony; and 5.) The accused was did not avail of pardon from a conviction of previous violent felony that was committed or that a previous violent felony conviction has been reversed on appeal or any other post-conviction proceeding (Russo and Russo, 2012). The five-criteria requirement should have been completely satisfied before the judge is allowed to impose the minimum mandatory term of imprisonment provided under the law. In the event of a third conviction for a life felony, the court has the obligation to impose the life imprisonment sentence. The third conviction for a first degree felony will be equivalent to a thirty-year prison term. On the other hand, a second degree felony shall result to the imposition of a fifteen year sentence. Finally, the third degree felony shall be equivalent to a five-year imprisonment. It bears stressing that although the court is obligated to impose a sentence based on the number of years provided under the law, the judge shall be given the discretion to decide whether to impose longer prison sentence, provided that the same is not contrary to law.
The “Three-Strikes Law” is not the only minimum mandatory law that was created on the basis of “three strikes and you’re out” principle (Russo and Russo, 2012). The present rule removed the sentencing discretion from the judge in the event that the offender/accused has been proven to be a “violent career criminal “or a “repeat sexual offender”. The state prosecution must be able to show that the accused fall under the category of a “three-time violent offender” under the present rules. The possible minimum mandatory sentences that shall be imposed on a “three-time violent felony offender” shall fall within the range of five years state imprisonment that can go as high as life imprisonment, which shall depend on the gravity of the offense and the designation of the offender decided by the state (Russo and Russo, 2012).
Under the current laws, the two offender designations are discretionary since the court may opt to impose a sentence based on the re-offender statute; or may impose a sentence that is based on the existing Criminal Punishment Code. Under the “habitual offender statute”, the judge is given the discretion to impose the penalty of a maximum of 10 years to life imprisonment inside the state prison, where the convicted felon has been designated as a “habitual offender”. On the other hand, the “habitual violent offender” classification shall require the judge to use his or her discretion to impose the sentence, even if the state has already proven that all the necessary criteria had been satisfied. Thus, the judge has the discretion to refuse the imposition of sentence given to a qualified habitual violent offender, and decline to impose the minimum mandatory sentence provided under the law. The judge should make a finding that the minimum mandatory sentence guidelines are merely optional in order to protect the public before he can refuse to impose the mandatory sentences based on the two offender designations (Russo and Russo, 2012).
According to Davis (2013), even for fairly low-level drug offenders, the mandatory sentences may require the service of five up to ten years, and prior convictions can increase the sentence to life imprisonment even for probated state offenses. At present, one of the major policy changes on mandatory minimum sentences in federal courts is that the Department of Justice shall no longer require the available mandatory minimum sentences in some cases. This new policy which was imposed by the Department of Justice is based on the recent United States Supreme Court decision as deviation from the previous policy.
In the recent case of Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), the Supreme Court held that any fact that increases the statutory mandatory minimum sentence is an element of the crime that must be submitted to the jury and there must be a finding of the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. Such statement means that in order for the defendant to be qualified to a mandatory minimum sentence, the prosecutors are required to make sure that the charging document includes the elements of the crime that initiate the statutory minimum penalty (Davis, 2013, p. 25).
The new policy imposed by the Department of Justice is part of an over-all focus to get smart with crimes by examination of the allocation of resources of the government. With this new policy, the charging for the mandatory minimums for specific nonviolent low-level sentences are reserved for the more serious, high-level criminals such as the violent drug traffickers (Davis, 2013, p.25). In fact, there are certain instances when the mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancement statutes have resulted to undue harsh sentences that have been regarded as actual disparities that do not show the true principles of prosecution, whether in the state courts or federal courts.
Based on the present polices of the state of Florida on sentencing, the long sentences for low-level, non violent crimes, particularly the drug-related cases, it is clear that the terms of imprisonment do not promote public safety, rehabilitation and deterrence. In addition, the rising prison costs have resulted to decreased spending on criminal justice initiatives, such as the allocation of programs for the improvement of law enforcement agencies, the police officers and event the prosecution, and other prevention and intervention programs (Davies, 2013, p.26). Furthermore, these reductions in public safety spending must serve as an encouragement to improve the public safety expenditures to set-off more productive efforts.
Based on the data gathered, the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines should be eliminated. As part of the cost-effective and practical initiatives, the standards that prosecutors must use while making a decision on whether to forego the mandatory minimum sentences shall include: 1.) The relevant conduct of the accused does not involve the use of violence, the credible threat or violence, the possession of a weapon, the death of a person or causing serious bodily injury to an individual or the trafficking of drugs to minors or using minors; 2.) There is no showing that the defendant is an organizer, leader, supervisor, or manager of a criminal organization; 3.) The defendant/accused does not show any significant ties to large-scale drug trafficking organizations, cartels or gangs; and 4.) There is no showing that the defendant or the accused has a significant criminal history (Davies, 2013, p.26). The criminal history of the defendant shall be evidenced by three or more criminal history points, but may involve fewer or greater offenses, that shall be based on the nature of the previous convictions.Recommendations
As part of the cost-effective recommendations to the Governor, due to insufficient funds, it is proposed that alternative measures must be considered to reduce the number of inmates by creating programs that will deal specifically with the type of crime committed. The prison data revealed that the common crime committed by the offenders involve drug-related cases. As a part of the recommendation to solve this problem, the State of Florida should create a “Drug Courts and Expanding the Residential Drug Abuse Program.” With the implementation of such program, it will expand the good conduct credit for the inmates in order to shorten their prison terms (Criminal Justice Transition Coalition, 2009). This initiative will de-clog the dockets of the courts and at the same help defray government expenditures. It is believed that program will be beneficial not only for the criminal justice arena, but it will result to reformation of the inmates and their successful reentry to the community.
Another recommendation to the Governor is by citing the recent move of President Barack Obama by ordering the speedy release of eight federal prisoners serving lengthy terms for crack cocaine offenses (Rhodan 2013, p.1). Such bold and aggressive move on the part of the U.S. President himself is by pushing against the strict drug sentencing laws of the country. The U.S. President decided to grant the clemency to the eight inmates by commuting the previous sentences. At the same time, President Obama allowed the pardon of 13 convicts who have been earlier released. Obama order the retroactive application of the new sentencing and drug laws to other eight convicted criminals who are currently serving prison sentence, while the other six felons shall be expected for release in the first quarter of 2014. The new law implemented by the U.S. President has shown that many of felons already served their prison sentence and was able to pay their debt to the community (Rhodan, 2013). By the act of the President in commuting the sentences of such felons is considered a significant step towards the restoration of the basic ideals of justice and fairness. This is in keeping with the fundamental Constitutional concept of equal treatment for all. This the retroactive application of the new policy on sentencing guidelines should also be adopted by the State of Florida for those pending cases of inmates who have already served sentence. The commutation of sentences for those who are on death row should be allowed, especially in the case of those inmates who had served 15 years or longer in prison. The current disparity in the previous sentencing policies promotes unjust and unfair treatment, while the inmates had to endure the separation from their families at the expense of taxpayer’s money each year (Rhodan, 2013, p.1).
Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013)
Bosworth, M. (2010). Explaining U.S. Imprisonment. California: Sage Publications, Inc.
Davies, W. V. (2013). Indigent Defense, Mandatory Minimum Sentences and an Update. Tennessee Bar Journal, 49(11), 25-27.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (2013). Crime in Florida. Web. Retrieved on
February 3, 2014, from < http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Content/getdoc/f3df823d-a2b8-40d6-8ee5-d09614df22b0/CIF_annual12.aspx>.
Hofer, P. J. (2012). Review of the U.S. Sentencing Commission's Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 24(3), 193-213. doi:10.1525/fsr.2012.24.3.193
Criminal Justice Transition Coalition. (2009). Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the next
Administration and Congress. Prison Incentives and Management: Improve Prison Management by Expanding Prisoner’s Good Conduct Credits. Web. February 3, 2014, from <http://2009transition.org/criminaljustice/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=51&Itemid=104>.
Rhodan, M. (2013). Obama Commutes Sentences in Crack Cocaine Cases. Time.Com, 1.
Russo and Russo (2012). Florida Career Criminal Sentencing: The Florida Three-Strikes Law. Web. February 2, 2014. Retrieved from
Walsh, J.C. (2007). Three Strikes Laws. Westport: CT: Greenwood Publishing.