DENVER (CBS4) – A bill making its way through the state capitol would get rid of almost all mandatory minimum sentences.
If passed, it would result in parole eligibility in some of the most violent crimes.
The sponsor of the bill, State Sen. Pat Steadman, says we should let judges be judges. But opponents say it would result in wide variations in sentencing across the state. A judge in one county might give probation while one in another county gives prison for the same crime. And mandatory minimum sentences would only apply to violent or deadly felonies.
Prosecutors say a contrast of two different vehicular homicides cases provides an example of what would happen if the bill is passed. There is no mandatory minimum sentence currently for that crime, and when Robert McGhee and David Bunn were each convicted in their deadly drunk driving cases they recieved wildly different sentences. Bunn got 28 years in prison and Mcghee got a year in community corrections.
“My concern is that this proposed legislation would do the same thing on a much broader scale,” said Pete Weir, the district attorney for Jefferson County.
Weir is a former district court judge. He says judges can already lower a sentence if there are extraordinary circumstances.
“But it really is the responsibility of elected officials to determine — as a voice of the people, as a voice of the community — what should be the appropriate perameters for certain offenses.”
Steadman, a Democrat who represents Denver, says the state legislature “has really micromanaged the whole process of sentencing a guilty person.”
“I don’t want to excuse anyone’s criminal act. For me this is a very philospohical issue about what is the role of the legislature in setting policy and how do judges judge individual cases,” he told CBS4.
But prosecutors say the mandatory minimum sentences in existance were set by the legislature as a result of what they saw as gross inequities and injustices by judges with unfettered discretion.
Steadman insists they went too far.
“We’ve tried to legislate every particular little situation and provide for aggravating circumstances here, mitigating circumstances there,” he said.
Weir says the bill would lead to a massive rewrite of Colorado’s sentencing code and that it lacks input from stakeholders like prosecutors and victims.
“We’re talking sex offenders, child abusers, aggravated robbers, all kinds of crimes of violence would be affected by this legislation. And it’s really taking a meat cleaver to our sentencing structure,” Weir said.
The bill has a shot of passing in a committee vote on Monday but it will be close and controversial.