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Sheriff doesn’t like sentencing guidelines

It’s been almost a year since the state of Alabama enacted new sentencing guidelines for most non-violent offenders, and Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith believes the new regulations are not working.

Tuesday, Smith spoke to the Atmore Rotary Club and expressed his concerns about the guidelines, which initially went into effect Oct. 1, 2013. On Monday, Smith expressed the same concerns to the Escambia County Commission.

Under the new guidelines, judges are expected to use a “scoring worksheet” to determine how long a criminal can be sentenced, and whether that sentence will include any prison time.

Smith pointed out several hypothetical situations where he disagreed with the guidelines’ scoring system.

For example, he said a criminal who is charged with second-degree assault (1 point) and possession and use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument (4 points), and has two prior felony convictions (2 points), would have a total of 7 points under the current system. Based on the guidelines, criminals who have a total of 1 to 7 points cannot get prison time.

“This is his third felony conviction, and he has used a weapon — a gun or a knife — and hurt somebody seriously,” Smith said, of the hypothetical example. “That is what is required for assault second, is serious physical injury. And he is not going to prison.”

Smith also noted that is nonsensical to have all prior felony convictions be weighted at the same scale.

“One of those primary felony convictions could have been a murder,” he said. “It won’t matter. For any prior felony, he gets the same number of points.”

Smith also said that a criminal who steals a car and has been convicted of auto theft three previous times still does not have enough “points” to qualify for jail time.

“This is a guy who has stolen his fourth car and he’s not going to jail,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Smith said it was obvious that the legislature enacted the new guidelines in order to reduce the burden on the prison system, which is overfilled and underfunded. However, he noted that it also puts potentially dangerous criminals back on the streets where they can harm the public.

“Our system of justice is fundamentally broken,” he said.

Smith told the Rotary Club that the only way to change the faulty legislation is for citizens to call their state representatives and senators.

“Our legislators are the only folks who can do anything about this,” he said. “I am asking you all to consider talking to them. We can’t endure this.”