Thursday, January 12, 2006

Alabama Legislative Session Day 2

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2005 at 9:00 A.M. the Alabama House Judiciary Committee met to review legislation related to sentencing reform.

The following proposals were discussed and passed.

HB115 - Sentencing Commission, voluntary sentencing standards for certain felony offenses adopted by commission, approval by Legislature, truth-in-sentencing standards, presentation to Legislature, time extended, Sec. 12-25-34 am'd.

This bill gives judges more sentencing options and will suppossedly make sentences for the same crime more uniform across the state. Since it is voluntary I have my doubts as to whether or not it will bring about the much needed changes to our current system. It does nothing to address the prison overcrowding crisis Alabama is facing.

This bill is a product of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, which I have a lot of respect for. Hopefully this bill will do what it is suppossed to do. I know that in the past the Sentencing Commission has presented some very good bills to the legislature only to have them fail in committee. This bill was likely the best that they could hope to get through the judiciary committee and to the house floor for a vote.

HB118 -Criminal Code, fines for felonies, misdemeanors, violations, Secs. 13A-5-11, 13A-5-12 am'd.

This bill raised the maximum amount of fines in all classes of felony and misdemeanor cases. I'm talking about big raises too. For instance, the fine for a Class A Felony jumped from $20,000 to $60,000.

These raises were suppossedly needed because in the original bill establishing fine amounts no one adjusted for inflation. One committee member proposed that from now on the committee should meet every four years to adjust for inflation because raising fines by that large of an amount all at once did not seem right.

These increases in fines had nothing to do with inflation and everything to do with preventing people who have served their sentences from having their rights restored and from being pardoned, as all fines and court costs must be paid before one can apply for those things to be done.

Next it was on to,

HB119 - Trafficking in illegal drugs, certain fines established and certain fines increased, any mixture of methylenedioxy methamphetamine, Ecstasy, (MDMA), trafficking offense, penalties, Sec.13A-12-231 am'd.

Now this was a doosie to watch and was comprised of two parts.

The bill proposed that a fine of $600,000 be imposed on convicted drug traffickers serving life in prison without parole.

The first thought that popped into my mind was,

"The people I know who have been convicted of 'trafficking' do not have that kind of money....where will they get it?"

And almost immediately Representative Laura Hall gave voice to my thought. She told Randy Hillman, who is Executive Director of The Alabama District Attorney's Association that all of the people she knew serving time in jail for trafficking in drugs were not the kind of people who had large amounts of cash and if they are serving life without parole what is the point of fining them that amount of money?


Hall: Where would the money come from?

Hillman: From the criminal. It is a way for us to seize money that we might not be able to get through asset forfiture.

Hall: How would it be collected if there is no money or assets?

Hillman: It wouldn't be levied if there are no money or assets to seize.

Hall: What happens to the money that is collected?

Hillman: It goes into the General Fund.

Hillman told the committee that in his 15 years of being a prosecutor in Alabama only about 5 cases qualified for imposition of this fine. He swore that it would only be used against "king pins".

Rep. Hall asked for data.
Hillman had none.

Rep. Carol Robinson asked how the determination of a 'king pin" is made.

Hillman said, "We just know."

Boy I tell you what...that there was a real hard-core, professional, scientific, legal answer. I thought my head would explode trying to understand the vast complexities of that explanation.

The second part of the bill dealt with imposing a fine of $600,000 for trafficking in hydromorphone and also increasing the penalties for Ecstacy.

When the Ecstacy portion was being debated it was discovered that the chemical listed in the bill which was suppossed to be 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine was actually listed as 5-methoxy-3-4 and some other large words I can neither spell nor pronounce.

The director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Science, Taylor Noggle, took the floor and pointed out that what was listed in the bill was not actually a controlled substance and in his many years at the ADFS Labs he had never encountered such a chemical.

Then Mr. Brilliant himself, Randy Hillman, spoke up in a dazed and somewhat disappointed voice and said, "Well if it isn't a controlled substance then we can't prosecute."

Someone on the committee asked the reps from the Sentencing Commission where they got the information to place that particular chemical in the bill. The rep said that she was told to add that chemical by the department of forensic sciences.
The department of forensic sciences said they had never encountered such a chemical and it wasn't illegal anyway and didn't think the information had come from them.

The bill was amended to reflect the correct chemical name for Ecstacy and was then given a favorable report.

Was I laughing while this unbelievable and outrageous scene was unfolding?
Yes, of course I was. Quietly though.

I also wondered how many people are in jail in Alabama for chemicals that are not against the law.

And of course it struck me, as it always does when I visit the legislature here, just how dumb and careless a lot of these people are with everyone elses life and liberty.

My legislators might have just outlawed something as mundane as say, chewing gum or soap bubbles thinking it was MDMA had someone not been paying very close attention.

Gawd these people are dangerous!!

I keep wondering how they managed to get elected to public office and does their ignorance reflect worse on them or the voters who put them there?

Not that there aren't good people in the legislature who have a firm grip on what is going on. There are some. Just not enough, and unforunately, not the majority.

A few other bills were debated. One had to do with sharing information about people convicted of a DUI in another state and the other was related to pre and post-sentencing reports.
When those were debated and given favorable reports it concluded the sentencing reform portion of the committee meeting.

Next up was a bill to "protect the unborn" in cases of domestic violence. If you ask me, this is a backdoor to outlawing abortion. The bill states that it has nothing to do with abortion....but I am not buying it.

I know how Alabama, right-wing politicians and the Christian Coalition work.

What amazes me about both groups is that they scream louder than anyone about protecting the rights of the un-born, saving the un-born and so on yet, they are the first ones in line to yell about about having to provide welfare and public assistance when those un-borns are born to people who do not have the means to take care of them. Their most common smarmy and unoriginal retort is,

"Well people that can't afford to take care of kids should not have kids."

And if that isn't the height of hypocrisy then I do not know what is.

I left when Atty. General Troy King arrived. He is a perfect example of one of the above referenced HYPOCRITES.

He preaches about family values and being a christian, yet he personally prosecuted Roberta Franklin over $232 dollars worth of food stamps that were over-issued by the Department of Human Resources.

He has asked for 15 years in Roberta's case knowing all the while that if she is imprisoned,Pooh, a precious nine-year-old girl whom Roberta has had custody of and cared for since she was three weeks old, will be placed in the care of the state.

How bout them family values folks?

I left. I simply could not stand to be in the same room with AG King. I know my limits. It was time to go.

And that's all the legislative work I had planned for this week folks. Next week will likely find me marching through the halls of the Alabama State House once again gathering information that you need to know.

Until then....y'all be safe, stay away from that illegal chemical that isn't actually illegal, don't go having any abortions but don't have babies you cannot afford to take care of either.

Loretta Nall
Jan. 12, 2006

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