Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So You Want to Be a Sentencing Commissioner?

In part one of this two-part series, MD sentencing commissioner Russell Butler described how he got involved with the commission there. In part two he concludes with consideration of the commission's work and benefit of being a commissioner, including what you should ask yourself if you have the opportunity some day.

Ongoing work of the Commission

The Commission has over the years developed a routine. Normally the Commission meets four times per year and has an annual public hearing. After the legislature creates a new crime or changes the penalty of an existing crime, the [Guidelines] Committee meets and recommends to the Commission how the offense should be classified. Other changes have been made over the years. Most of the changes have been small and incremental. The Commission has always attempted to have a rationale when adopting any change. I believe and hope that the judiciary has better confidence in the guidelines today. In my view, we have reasonably considered issues that have been brought before us.

As I have served from the beginning of the Commission, I feel I understand the process because I have lived the institutional history. In many regards because of the change of membership, my personal belief is that there is far more posturing on the Commission now. In my view, arguments are made rather than compromises to create controversy in hope to stall change. Fortunately, despite not having the mutual compromises as had occurred in the past, the Commission has in my view continued to improve the guidelines, but I doubt that everyone on the Commission would so agree.

The benefit of serving on the Commission

While I understand my role on the Commission is to represent the perspective of victims and I believe I have done that, I also understand that my duty to the Commission is to take a broader public perspective. As such, I try to understand the perspective of the public, judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation officer, victim, etc. I believe in compromise and believe that I can help to make reasoned public policy to improve the justice system through the sentencing guidelines and COMAR provisions. I also hope that my colleagues also better understand the perspectives of crime victims and their interests because of my service in the Commission.

If you are interested in serving on the Commission, I hope that you ask yourself why. The correct answer as far as I am concerned would be that you are interested in issues and you want to participate in a dialog to improve sentencing policy. Be prepared to serve on a commission as an advocate to express your concerns on behalf of whom you were appointed. Be willing to listen to all of the perspectives of others and think about and address what the public would think about whatever the decision that is being considered. In the end, be reasonable and compromise to the extent that you can to be an effective policy maker acting in the interest of all.

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