Gov M. Jodi Rell — championing a bill that would revoke pensions for corrupt state employees — has emphasized the importance of a judge using discretion in deciding whether to eliminate or reduce the amount.
"Because you might have families dependent on those pensions for their existence," the governor told me a few weeks ago. "It should be at the discretion of the judge to have some leeway there."
Rell, of course, is right — but wrong, and certainly inconsistent, in her logic for not allowing for a judge's discretion in her proposal to impose a life sentence for anyone convicted of three violent offenses.
There are intangibles and considerations to weigh here too before invoking the severest penalty. No sense appointing judges and prosecutors if you prevent them from exercising their judgment.
I'm all for a three strikes provision. Hey, in some cases, two strikes is enough. But the prosecutors and judges have to be empowered in deciding the appropriate sentence.
A persistent offender law is on the books now that gives the court system plenty of leeway to impose stiff sentences. But maximum sentences are rarely given. So, when a released offender kills or injures someone in the community, the consequences for the public can be punitive.
Leslie Williams is the latest example of an ex-offender, who, in hindsight, should never have been let out. Williams allegedly broke into a New Britain home over the weekend and shot one older woman and killed another.
The 31-year-old convicted child rapist had served eight years for that offense before his release March 4. Child rape, alone, in my book should get you sent away for a loooong time.
But again, that's the judge's call.
"Any time you lessen the ability for a judge to make an individual decision, you have an issue of whether or not the decision was a just decision," said Aaron Ment, a retired state chief court administrator. "You have a judge who is presumably experienced and knowledgeable about criminal matters and you give that judge all of the information that he or she needs at the time of sentencing and there's no better way to come to a conclusion as to what would be the correct sentence."
Rell, like most of us, is upset at the second home invasion atrocity to malign our state in the past year. But as many Democratic lawmakers pointed out, a three strikes law would not have mattered with Williams — and it would not have prevented accused killers Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky from ravaging a Cheshire family. They weren't on their third strike.
"When I came to this state in 1972 to clerk for the chief justice as a young man, they had a habitual offender statute then," said defense attorney Austin McGuigan, a former chief state's attorney who is adamantly against a mandatory three strikes penalty.
In 1981, as chief state's attorney, McGuigan was involved in a state effort to expand maximum sentences and judges' discretion. Ment remembers.
"Personally, I could be for a three strikes, with the ability of a judge to say you've had three serious felonies and that's it," Ment said. "What is a problem is if a judge says, look, if you're convicted of this third felony, I have no choice ..."
Rell should use some discretion here. She should talk to her judges and prosecutors.
No sense striking out in a well-intended effort to curb crime.
Stan Simpson's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be heard live Saturday on WTIC NewsTalk 1080 from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun