AG Bennett opposes '3 strikes' exceptions
An amendment would allow judges leeway in sentencing repeat offenders
State Attorney General Mark Bennett has denounced a House proposed amendment to a "three-strikes" bill as "random, arbitrary and unconstitutional" because it gives repeat offenders the chance to avoid hefty sentences.
The House Judiciary Committee has proposed allowing a felon to ask the judge to determine that "extraordinary circumstances" exist that justify bypassing the maximum sentence. Under Senate Bill 2260, if someone has three separate convictions for a violent felony, the person would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison.
"Each offender would know that all he would have to do is convince a court of 'extraordinary circumstances' and he could avoid the mandatory sentence," Bennett said in a letter to lawmakers.
Others, however, defended the House amendment.
Kat Brady, coordinator with the Community Alliance on Prisons, said the Senate bill, which Bennett proposed last year, would result in even more overcrowded prisons as repeat offenders are locked away for 30 years. And the committee said it envisions that the extraordinary circumstances request would be rarely used.
Bennett said yesterday after a House-Senate conference committee on the bill that the House amendment "renders the entire concept of the law meaningless."
"What the House is proposing is not a law worth having. Nothing is better," Bennett said. "The House should explain why they don't want to protect the public."
Brady said after the meeting: "If you keep pushing mandatory minimums you will turn the prisons into colleges for criminals as young nonviolent offenders are put in with those who will be there for 30 years."
Brady added that extended prison terms mean the state will be liable for the health of prisoners until they are 60 or 70.
"Look at California with its three-strikes law, it is turning the prisons into geriatric hospitals," Brady said.
After the meeting, Rep. Blake Oshiro, Judiciary committee vice chairman, defended the proposed amendment saying the House envisions that the "extraordinary circumstances" clause "would be rarely if ever used."
But Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa) said judges should still have the flexibility to deviate from the bill's mandatory sentencing feature.
"The House doesn't believe in a cookie-cutter approach to sentencing," Oshiro said.
Bennett also criticized the House proposal because it doesn't include home invasions or burglaries as crimes that would be included in the lists of violent crimes that would trigger the three strikes rule.
In contrast, Bennett praised a Senate version of the bill saying it would be "a reasoned, limited response to a very serious problem."