Thursday, October 25, 2007

Extended sentencing bill - what it's all about...

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that the state's extended sentencing bill is unconstitutional because it violates the sixth amendment right to a jury trial. The law, as currently written, allows judges, rather than juries, to determine what facts warrant longer sentences. What the ruling means is that judges cannot apply the extended sentencing law in current cases, and that even felons who were previously sentenced but are appealing those sentences now have the right to a jury trial (and could have their sentences reduced.)

Attorney General Mark Bennett declared that there was no immediate public danger because of the court's ruling. The long term effect, however, is that certain felons will serve shorter sentences and will be back out in the community, perhaps sooner than they should be.

HB2 Related to Sentencing amends Hawaii's extended term sentencing law to address the issues raised in the court ruling on the right to a jury trial. The bill is expected to be supported by the law enforcement community.

The description of the bill is: Requires jury to deterine facts necessary to impose an extended term of imprisonment under section 706-662, HRS, unless right to jury determination is waived, in which case determination is to be made by judge. Requires facts to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is unlikely that the legislature would have reconvened just for the extended sentencing bill, but the Superferry issue provided a timely opportunity for lawmakers to make the fix. We'll be posting on the outcome of the 4 p.m. Judiciary hearing, chaired by Rep. Tommy Waters, later today.

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