New state law lowers criminal sentencing, prosecutors concerned

Reported by Kristy Ondo - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A new state law cuts down the amount of time some criminals will spend behind bars, which frustrates prosecutors and victim advocates.

During their last session, the general assembly narrowly voted to "even out" the sentencing structure, in effort to cut costs because of overcrowded prisons.

The statute reduces sentences for felons by as much as two years in some cases.

"If someone rapes a child today, as opposed to 3 weeks ago - 3 weeks ago, someone who rapes a child would receive, if they had one prior sentencing point would receive 230 months to 288 months," explained Assistant District Attorney Chris Thomas.   "If they rape a child this week they'll receive 221 to 276."

Under the new law, offenders will see anywhere from nine months to a year less behind bars.

For example, a level three repeat offender convicted of murder would have served 269-336 months under the old law.  Now, the same person will serve 254-317 months; a difference of up to a year and a half.

"I think it was an effort to cut the costs of the prison system," said Rep. Frank Iler-R-Brunswick County.  "To me It's at the expense of law enforcement and public safety, so I voted against it."

Prosecutors say the statute lets violent, repeat offenders off the hook more easily, putting them back on the streets faster.

"I voted against that because the same people commit most of the crimes, and we keep letting them out and putting them back in," said Rep. Iler.

Columbus County Democrat Dewey Hill voted in favor of the new statute, but has since changed his mind.  He said it seemed like a good idea at the time, but would retract his "yes" vote if he could.

"It's called the criminal justice system and when you see a change like this, where violent felons are released early, it truly is justice for the criminals," said Thomas.

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