In Blount County Alabama, authorities have recently arrested four people on capital murder charges. According to a recent news report from WVTM 13, Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey is of the opinion that Alabama’s mandatory sentencing guidelines are at least partially responsible for these deaths.
During a press conference following the fourth murder arrest, Casey said the state sentencing guidelines are putting drug dealers back on the streets instead of sending them to an Alabama state prison, where she feels they belong. She blamed the county having so many problems with drugs on the alleged fact that she “can’t put anybody in prison, because they don’t qualify under these worksheets.” She went on to say she is sick of what is happening in her county and called on the state legislature to fix the problem before things get worse. With respect to these four recent killings, she said they were all in some way related to drugs.
As our Birmingham drug crimes defense attorneys can explain, these sentencing guidelines, which went from voluntary to preemptive, were created out of an effort reduce overcrowding in Alabama state prisons. They way the guidelines work is that there is a numerical score assigned to defendant based upon their prior record, and that score will determine what box they fall into in the sentencing guidelines. This is they way things have been done in the federal criminal justice system for years.
While the district attorney is obviously not happy with the new guidelines, they were created to deal with prison overcrowding, which is a real problem in Alabama. With this goal in mind, it is often helpful to understand why the prisons have become so overcrowded in our state. One of the major reasons for this overcrowding is because prosecutors are often far more concerned with getting convictions and sending to people to jail than they are with doing justice. This is the problem Justice Sutherland was addressing when speaking on the higher duty of a prosecutor, when he said it is a prosecutor’s duty not just to win cases, but also to seek justice.
During her press conference, Casey also complained about the manner in which prior offenses are scored when calculating a presumptive sentence under the guidelines. Her concern was that if a suspect is arrested for nine separate drug offenses and is sentenced on a major felony, before those drug crimes are disposed of with a plea of guilty or finding of guilt following a trial, they will not be scored in fashioning the felony sentence. She also found issue with how police can arrest someone on multiple counts during a single arrest, and those multiple charges are only scored one time on the sentencing guidelines worksheet.
This, however, makes sense for various reasons. If a defendant is arrested with 10 bags of crystal meth, and police and prosecutors decided to charged him with ten counts of possession of a controlled substance, instead of a single count with all 10 bags listed in evidence, the defendant should not face 10 times as much of a penalty. In other words, the police do not get to benefit by overcharging the defendant.