Bill would change sentencing to comply with high court

Range of options would bring Alaska courts in line with Supreme Court ruling

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2005

State judges would have a range of options when sentencing criminals - instead of the single, definite sentences they are now required to impose - under a bill in the Alaska Legislature.

The proposal by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, and Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, would bring state law into compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued last year. The Blakely v. Washington case gives defendants the right to a jury, instead of a sentencing judge, when determining if aggravating circumstances exist to increase their statutorily prescribed sentence.

Therriault and Seekins said Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee that Senate Bill 56 gives more discretion to judges and helps probation officers and the correctional system to improve the supervision and rehabilitation of prisoners. The proposal also gives probation officers the authority to impose additional terms, limits the use of periodic sentencing and gives police the authority to arrest those violating parole or probation.

But Alaska Public Defender Barbara Brink argued that the proposal will result in larger sentences. Brink said sentences were made uniform in Alaska law in 1978 because of the disparities in different courts. She said the range of sentences laid out in the bill goes higher than the current sentences.

"I think it will have the unintended consequence of increasing sentences," Brink said. "Because the bill proposes upping the ranges for each type of sentence, it actually creates the possibility for greater disparity again."

She said about 100 cases a year would be affected by the proposal.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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