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DA: Sentencing changes mean little locally

Riese ().
Riese ().

By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

California judges now have more leeway in determining sentences for convicted criminals.

But according to Del Norte County's lead prosecutor, this change likely will have little affect on the local courts.

"I don't think it will make that drastic of an impact locally," Del Norte District Attorney Mike Riese said.

After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill last week, judges were given the power to impart lower or higher sentences without disclosing the mitigating or aggravating circumstances surrounding the crime.

They simply choose one of three sentencing options for a convicted criminal – low, medium or high.

"This bill gives judges the discretion to sentence criminals on an individual basis, ensuring that each punishment fits its respective crime," Schwarzenegger said in a press release Friday.

"I would expect that it won't make a huge difference on how our local judges operate," Riese said. "Be-fore, the judges were guided to pick the middle (sentencing) term and go up or down."

Before SB 40, a judge would have to sentence a convicted criminal to the middle term. Then, based on other factors in the case, such as the previous offenses or the nature of the crime, the judge could issue a lighter or harsher sentence. This was called California's Determinant Sentencing Law.

But in January, the United State Supreme Court ruled that California's law was unconstitutional because it violated a citizen's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. According to the high court's decision, a jury, not a judge, needs to establish the mitigating or aggravating factors that increase or decrease a sentence.

Now judges will have three options from the outset and will choose the most appropriate based on the facts presented in court.

"It may end up in more mitigated terms because the courts aren't obligated to start in the middle," Riese said, again adding, "I don't think it will make that drastic of an impact locally."

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