Monday, February 18, 2013

Georgia looks to pull back on some mandatories

Lawmakers in Georgia have proposed some limited changes to the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, widely considered to be among the toughest in the nation, reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

House Bill 349 would allow for reduced sentences for some defendants charged with drug trafficking and other serious felonies. It would provide “safety valves” for cases in which prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that a harsh mandatory minimum term is unwarranted.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, is sponsored by the chairman of a key judiciary committee, the governor’s three floor leaders and a former federal prosecutor.

The governor’s legislation restores judicial discretion to a limited degree in very narrow circumstances where that discretion is appropriate,” Rep. Rich Golick, the bill’s lead sponsor and chair of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, told the Journal Constitution. “We have something very similar in the federal system, so we’re not plowing new ground.”

The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, a group of judges, prosecutors and other state officials appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, recommended the safety valve for mandatory minimums in a report released in December.

Deal has pledged his support for HB 349, which also includes an evidentiary change that helps prosecutors in child molestation cases and gives drug court participants the chance to get limited driving permits.

This governor’s special council said this year’s legislation should promote “truth in pleading,” because some offenders are being allowed to plead guilty to reduced charges to avoid mandatory minimums. Under HB 349, offenders would plead guilty to the actual crimes they are accused of committing, reported the Journal Constitution.

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