Truth in Sentencing

After opposing legislative efforts to put limits on a judge's ability to shorten prison time for convicted criminals at any time and for any reason, the Maryland Court of Appeals imposed a five-year time limit in which a sentence can be reduced. That limit became effective July 1.

Three years ago, fighting to pass legislation to put a time limit on judicial sentence reduction, I stated one major reason that people have lost confidence in the criminal justice system is the absence of truth in sentencing.

Criminal sentencing is downright confusing. Criminals sentenced to life are eligible for parole in 15 years. Those sentenced to death can live on death row 15 years or more while they exhaust all appeals, unless, of course their sentence is changed to life without possibility of parole. Add to the confusion the fact that in Maryland alone, before July 1, a judge had the power to reduce a sentence at any time, for any reason.

Crime victims and their families, as well as state prosecutors and victims' rights advocates, unsuccessfully backed legislation to impose a one-year limit on judicial sentence reduction. Finally, the court bowed to public pressure and imposed a five-year limit on the time in which a judge can shorten a sentence. While I would have preferred a one-year limit, I am relieved that some limit has been imposed.

Unlimited judicial power to reduce a criminal sentence is a slap in the face to victims and their families. Parole and good behavior are valid tools in shortening sentences. Otherwise, when a sentence is imposed, that should be the end of it.

Certainly, there is finality to the crime. There should be finality to the punishment.

SEN. JAMES E.

DEGRANGE SR.

(D-Anne Arundel)