A bill banning probation, parole or early release for gun crimes was held in committee Tuesday after Police and Justice Department officials testified against parts of the bill and asked for several amendments.
The bill sets minimum sentencing for unauthorized possession or use of an unlicensed weapon with no possibility for probation or parole. Simple illegal possession would have a one-year sentence. Possession with intent would carry a five-year minimum, shooting and wounding a victim would carry 15 years, and manslaughter by firearm would carry 20 years.
There are similar minimum sentences in existing law, but the proposed new law would eliminate any chance of probation, parole, suspended sentencing or any early release before serving the minimum. The bill also changes the definition of an "assault rifle" and bans them.
At Tuesday’s hearing of the Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, Sen. Louis Hill read an Aug. 6 letter from Francis decrying a sentence of two-years probation meted out to Jamal Wesselhoft after he led police on a high-speed chase and was found with an AK-47 and a .40-caliber handgun. “These light sentences embolden the criminals to commit more crimes when the word travels on the streets that another brazen criminal act has been virtually ignored by our criminal justice system,” Hill recited from Francis’ letter.
"I agree with the commissioner. That is why we must pass this bill," Hill said. Hill and Sen. Sammuel Sanes, the committee’s chairman, sponsored the bill.
Francis said he criticized that sentence because of the particular circumstances of that crime, but did not favor mandatory minimums as the solution.
"While mandatory-minimum sentencing appears to answer the outcries from the public, there are unanticipated consequences that flow from mandatory sentences," Francis testified. "Studies have shown that judges and juries are queasy about mandatory sentences.”
Chief Deputy Attorney General Wayne Anderson testified the Department of Justice was uncomfortable with eliminating a judge’s discretion under law to suspend sentences and place people on probation.
“In recent months we have seen young men with no prior arrest and positive potential get arrested for possession of a firearm because they were riding in a vehicle with someone who had a firearm, unbeknownst to all the occupants of the car,” said Anderson.
In such circumstances, everyone in the car may be charged with constructive possession of the firearm, even though only one person really knew about it, he said. Having the discretion to suspend a sentence and put a person on probation gave prosecutors more flexibility to hold people accountable without forcing prosecutors and juries to either send everyone in the car to jail for a long time or let them go entirely by acquitting or not charging the crime.
Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly questioned whether there was solid statistical data saying mandatory minimums have a measurable impact on crime. Anderson said he “is certain the data is there” and that many jurisdictions have mandatory minimums but said he could not cite any at the time. O’Reilly also asked if mandatory minimums without possibility of parole or suspension could result in more acquittals.
“I could see that there could be,” said Anderson. He said he does not have the information to say for sure.
Hill said his office would draft amendments to allow prosecutorial discretion in the specific situation where several individuals were being charged with constructive possession of a single weapon and to address several other technical concerns, including the definition of an assault rifle. He then moved for the bill to be held in committee pending the drafting of amendments.
Voting to hold the bill pending amendment were: O’Reilly, Sanes, Sens. Alvin Williams, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Usie Richards and Ronald Russell. Sen. Celestino White was absent.
A bill to allow the governor and police commissioner to deputize federal law enforcement officials was tabled indefinitely at the beginning of the hearing. After the hearing ended, Committee Chairman Sanes said it was tabled because federal officials had declined to testify.
Studies have shown that people get “queasy” about getting KILLED with illegal weapons you imbeciles……..
Besides that fact, you are instantly an accessory as soon as you get into someones car that has an illegal weapon, that might make kids be SURE that they aren’t going to be complicit in a Murder, robbery etc…with a gun they Didn’t know about. Get with it, get real, Pass the bill.
Start sending the RIGHT message….,now!