This excerpt below looks at Matt Harvey’s commentary in the The Exponent Telegram. In it he explains the complex sentencing structure that the West Virginia state court system currently uses, and the court battles brewing over indefinite sentencing.
Should the state be required to set an exact period of time? Is this form of indefinite confinement acceptable?
The Exponent Telegram Matt Harvey
Time for W.Va. to make its prison sentences much more transparent
There’s been a lot of talk about fake news lately.
But what about fake (or at least murky) sentencing?
OK, the sentences handed down by courts aren’t really fake. But the story that they tell is a whole lot different than reality, especially in state court.
In West Virginia, there are two types of sentences.
One is called a definite sentence. That’s when a judge assigns a number for a defendant’s prison term — say, 25 years for a first-degree robbery conviction.
The second type of sentence in the Mountain State is an indefinite sentence. That’s when a judge assigns a sentencing range — say, 1-10 years for grand larceny.
West Virginia lawmakers — think state senators and state delegates — in the past created criminal charges and their potential sentences, including whether they carry definite or indefinite terms.
So grand larceny, drug crimes and conspiracy are among crimes that carry indefinite sentences, while first-degree robbery and access device fraud are among crimes that carry definite terms.
Well, just wait. It gets even better (or more accurately, worse).
Let’s go back to the robbery example.
The judge imposes a sentence of 25 years from, let’s say, today, which is Feb. 13, 2017. That means Defendant X, as we’ll call him, will stay in prison until Feb. 13, 2032, right? As Lee Corso of ESPN might say: Not so fast, my friend.
If the court doesn’t make a firearm finding (and it’s often part of the plea bargaining process that the state doesn’t seek such a finding), then Defendant X will be eligible for parole after serving a fourth of the term. A fourth of 25 is 6 1/4 years, meaning Defendant X can go before the parole board in May of 2023. Of course, it may be even sooner than that if Defendant X received credit for time spent in jail pending prosecution…
West Virginia Code should be rewritten to eliminate indefinite sentences, because hardly anyone serves more than a year or two, whether it’s a 1-10 or a 1-15.
Read the entire story… The Exponent Telegram