Alachua County makes history with fair criminal sentencing technology

As the budget was finalized Tuesday night, Alachua County made the joint effort of state attorney Brian Kramer and public defender Stacey Scott a historical reality: Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit will become Florida’s The first judicial circuit to make fair sentencing software an official part. Its case management system and plea-bargaining process. About 95 percent of cases are settled through plea bargaining.

“We think this is an important step in trying to create more equality in our criminal justice system so that these disparate sentences don’t exist today,” Scott said in her and Kramer’s presentation of the system to county commissioners on Aug. 8. said when. 2.

The fairly new software, called the Sentencing Analysis System (ESAS), provides legal practitioners with a searchable database of statewide sentencing data from the Florida Department of Corrections since 1998. It allows them to analyze the sentences of people who have committed similar crimes in the past. The background has received similar crimes.

“The dataset will provide lawyers with information like mean, mode, median, etc.,” Cramer told WUFT. “That’s the data that’s given to lawyers to say, ‘Okay, this situation I’m looking at, is it worse than average? Is it worse than average? It gives them a starting point from which to formulate a Sentencing that promises to eliminate some inequities in the criminal justice system.”

Scott further reiterated that, adding that sentencing data will make plea negotiations more honest and consistent, “rather than the way we’ve always done it, which is just someone’s gut feeling about what should happen.”

Its initial integration with the current system will cost Alachua County $73,000, followed by an annual subscription fee of approximately $23,000 per office. But the software’s owner, Al Barlow, said he didn’t create it to make money.

A lawyer with 37 years of legal experience, Barlow was inspired by his own experience with unfair sentences and presented the concept behind the Sentencing Analysis System to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. He hoped to make the software available to the state of Florida if the commission assigned him a programmer, but he did not receive the response he had hoped for.

“They thought I was an alien. They kind of let me down,” Barlow said. “I went back to Jacksonville, with this programmer and another, and we developed the software ourselves.”

Thus, his company Technologies for Justice was born along with his sentencing database. Subsequent analysis by Barlow, powered by the new software, showed that the sentencing guidance system established by the Criminal Penalties Act of 1998 failed to ensure fair sentencing in Florida. He said ESAS could be used as a means of auditing it.

“There are some facts that justify a person getting five years [and] The other gets six or eight years,” Barlow said. “But there’s nothing to prove that one gets 30 days in jail and the other gets 10 years. They both have the same charges, the same criminal history, the same points. No, there is no reason to do so. This sentence is too divisive. “

Some lawyers, including Scott and Cramer, say ESAS is not a panacea. For them, this is one of many factors worth considering when determining a fair sentence. Still, Cramer sees something in Barlow’s software that other state attorneys haven’t done: the potential to fight built-in bias.

“Does it remove bias? No, not at all, because you can’t remove bias,” Cramer said. “But what it will do is give us an unbiased starting point. Then we can start from there and try and adjust up or down as appropriate.”

Florida prosecutors have so far avoided this sentencing analysis system almost entirely: Barlow said he was also contacted by a state attorney’s office to try out ESAS, but never ended up using it. Defense attorneys are often the ones who use it to reduce sentences, according to a spokesman for the Eighth Judicial Circuit.

Even among all Florida attorneys, the software is not well known. Barlow said only 150 people have signed up to use it, with a few others occasionally performing one-off searches. (Note that there are currently more than 100,000 people registered to practice law in Florida, according to the Florida State Bar.) He estimates that two-thirds don’t even know it.

Barlow also said that software like ESAS does not appear to exist outside of Florida. He said he got calls from lawyers in Washington, New York, Seattle and across the country who were appalled by the technology.

“Florida is about to do something very, very special,” Barlow said. “If it’s half as effective as we know it, Gainesville will set a precedent for a fair judgment that the entire nation can follow.”

Source link