Friday, December 7, 2012

Individualized Sentencing for Veterans Only?

According to this new article out of Ohio, the Buckeye State Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would "require judges to consider a person's military service as well as their emotional, mental and physical condition before being sentenced for a crime." Judges wouldn't have a choice whether to consider a veteran's service, they would be required by law to consider it.

What is the purpose of this law? Is it simply a reflection of gratitude toward our nation's veterans? Or do lawmakers think judges should be more forgiving of this class of lawbreakers? According to bill sponsor Senator Joe Schiavoni, the need for the bill is rooted in veterans' unique experiences. According to Schiavoni, "They have been through things that most of us haven't. It's so, so important we consider that before they get thrown into jail and their problems aren't handled properly."

Well, now, that's interesting. We at SentenceSpeak have long supported the idea that judges should sentence individuals as individuals and not as members of a class that violated a specific section of the criminal code. In fact, we have cited combat service as the type of unique experience that cries out for individualized consideration. Unlike the Ohio bill, however, our instinct to treat individuals as individuals does not begin and with veterans.

To begin with, not all veterans are alike. Some see combat, most don't. So, not all veterans have experiences that are unique, and yet the bill makes no distinction. Second, some non-veteran defendants  grow up in violent neighborhoods that are far more traumatic than anything a non-combat veteran will experience. Yet the new law does not require (or even allow) judges to consider their backgrounds, which, in the words of Senator Schiavnoi, forces these offenders to experiences "things that most of us haven't."

In the end, we think there will be times when it makes sense to consider a veteran's experiences at sentencing. But we also think there are times when judges should be allowed to consider a non-veteran's experiences, too - again, in Senator Shiavnoi's words - "before they get thrown into jail and their problems aren't handled properly."  The problem is that mandatory minimum sentencing laws prohibit judges from considering individual circumstances and experiences. If Ohio wants to fix its sentencing laws, it should do so by letting judges judge in all cases, not simply those involving veterans.

- Ingersoll

1 Comment:

Will Hickey said...

This bill passing the Ohio Senate unanimously is good thing. The exception for veterans is arbitrary, but it represents a baby step in the right direction. Major public policy changes usually come about gradually

Also, the first version of the bill contained this restrictive clause:
(g) Whether the offender has rendered service in the armed forces of the United States in a clearly exceptional manner.

But in the 12/5/12 version that line has been replaced with:
(g) The offender's military service record.

This is a good change, essentially widening the net from war heros to all veterans.

Here's the full text of Ohio SB330.