In the avalanche of commentary about the recent "no contest" plea and the meager sentencing of former CIA Director Rihcard Hielms for failing to testify fully and accurately at a 1973 Senate Committee hearing one matter has been overlooked. While the moral dilemma Helms faced when called to testify about secret government activities fascinated insiders, it was the way Helms was dealth with by the criminal justice system that piqued the public's interest.

It is the unimaginative sentencing power of our courts that the Helms case should call into question. The unhappy fact is that our trial courts sentecing options essentially are limited to fining, killing, imprisoning or releasing every defendant in every case. These options often do not fit the crime or the criminal and as a result the fairness of the whole justice system is drawn into question.

Since the great majority of all criminals plead guilty, the only issue before courts in most cases is what the proper sentence ought to be. And, to a great degree, the correctional process that follows apprehension and conviction is predetermined by the sentence. Yet, complex and vital as is the sentencing decision, judges do not use their available powers to fine suspend sentece or order probation with much imagination and versality. Herean lies the answer to the common complaint that courts are too lenient to white-collar criminals and too severe to the rest.

Those citizens who have had less salutary experience in the criminal justice system along with much of the general public, viewed the Helms sentencing with envy and Carrollian awd. Helms' small fine and suspended two-year sentence the was permitted to keep his government pension, too along with the kind-mannered treatment he got flamed the cynicism of people who feel that a double standard prevails in the administration of justice. The sentencing judge had compared Helms's defense on the obsecure and strained charge against him to the Watergate and Nuremburg defenses, no less he told Helms that he was disgraced and had a misguided notion that he was above the law. Theft, reluctantly, he all but set Helms face.

Judge Barrington Parker could have sentenced Helms as can all judges in appropriate cases. In a suspended sentence and probation [WORD ILLEGIBLE] on the performance of suitably community service for a significant period of time. Unless defendants are dangerous, they all should serve their sentences in the community saving the public all the costs of incarceration without running any risks or dangers. In addition susbtantial fines should be imposed more frequently to cover the costs of each case and when appropriate to compensate the victim of the particular offense. In such a scheme, the defendant would be saved the degradation of imprisonment which does him, his victim and society no good. And he would be made to seve a real but constructive sentence - one that helps others in the community and requires a positive personal effort.

Remember when former British War Minister John Profumo was forced to resign his seat in Parliament and his Cabinet position in the wake of a sex and espionage scandal in 1963? Profumo was not tried and sentenced but he voluntarily did fund-raising and social work in Toynbee Hall an East End London settlements house for poor alcoholics and addicts. Years later, he was given a national award by Queen Elizabeth for his admirable and effective work. Prosecutors sometimes permit first offenders to perform useful public services in heau of their prosecution. IF prosecutors can be creative, why can't judges?

John Ehrlichman wanted to work for an Indian tribe in lieu of serving his sentence in a minimum security person he was refused the opportunity. But there have been isolated cases where courts have taken such an approach. Early this year, a federal judge in News York had to sentence a college professor and former U.N. official who had pleaded guilty to a crime factor in report a fraud. In suspending the sentence, Judge Charles S. Hiagh Jr. ordered the defendant to 18 months probation for the duration of which he agreed to teach inmates at a nearby federal detention center. Certainly someone with the talent training and connetions of Helms could have found a suitable charitable organization that could have used his services for a time. Then he truly could have claimed hobor despite punishment.

Many other less sophisticated defendants also could be assigned to comparable alternative sentences in the community. They would have to work hard, under supervision and in the public service. They would be required to pay the way for their own correction, cutting public costs and in some cases reimbursing their victims. In doing so, they would legitimize the correctional system by giving it a sensible useful rationale.

A last point: White-collar criminals are obvious candidates for this kind of sentencing. But they should not be the only ones. Where physical violence is not an element of the offense, all convicts, rich or poor, black or white connected or not, should be candidates for this kind of constructive alternative sentencing. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]