- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2000

Watchdog groups in Pennsylvania will now have access to records listing race and gender of every criminal sentenced and the name of the judge who imposed the sentence. This should go a long way in helping the public understand how one criminal can get five to 10 years and another four to six years for the same crime. The commission that voted on this change felt the state should probably turn over public information to the public, since it is the public that pays for the judicial system.

It would be nice if the judges were required to write an explanation of their reasons for imposing a sentence. As it stands now, a defendant standing before a judge who has a bad headache and stomach cramps will probably not fare as well as he would if the judge had just come off the golf course after breaking par. I'm sure there are many factors the judge considers before sentencing, but being on the outside looking in, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to how he arrives at his decision.

There have been studies that show blacks on average receive longer sentences than whites for the same type of crime. Records do not show the names of judges who handled the cases. Equality in sentencing seems to be the goal the state is striving for. It also seems judges have far too much latitude when it comes to sentencing individuals who commit major violent crimes. Sentences range from community service to execution. I have heard that a good show of remorse can knock five years off a sentence.

Other states have similar programs. The "Judge not lest ye be judged" system is long overdue. Judges should be held accountable, the same as any other professional. There is no room on the bench for a biased judge, but we know we have them. Do you think a black man in Mississippi gets the same kind of treatment as a black man in New York? I don't think so. We need a sentencing system that is a little more by the numbers and a little less by how one man feels on a particular day.

To complicate matters even more, we have invented the hate crime. Penalties for hate crimes are supposed to be more severe. When there is a dead victim, we are led to believe the victim is more dead if he died because his attacker had hate in his heart rather then the love associated with other killings. How far can we go with degrees of crime? Victims are victims, no matter what the level of the infraction. We might have a better system if the judge asked the victim for advice before sentencing.

I believe there should be some basic sentences laid down for violent crimes, regardless of the perpetrator's past record, show of remorse or any other circumstance that would bring a tear to your eye. The victims of violent crimes don't really want to hear why the judge was lenient in one case and came down hard on another. If more criminals knew the penalty for a crime in advance, there might be a lot less crime.

Dick Boland is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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