Dwight Lewis of the Nashville Tennessean recently wrote about the need for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system.Mr Lewis was addressing the federal system. However , the criminal justice system is in a shambles on the state level. You only have to look at the Tennessee State Legislature to find the problem.
The goal of a state legislator is not to help the public ,but to get reelected.So, everybody jumps on the get tough with crime agenda without any thoughts on how it effects the system.Two recent stories in The Tennessean illustrate the problem.
First, Gary Odom , a State Legislator from Nashville is proposing a new bill to revamp the sentencing laws that would require violent criminals to serve longer sentences.No copy of the bill has been provided .No details of funding were provided.When the sentencing laws were reformed in 1989 a commission was appointed and great detail and work was performed when The Sentencing Reform Act of 1989 was enacted.
Secondly , a bill has been proposed by Knoxville Senator Tim Burchett that would make criminal defense lawyers liable for statements they make in trial. Senator Burchett , who is running for Mayor of Knoxville, made this proposal in the aftermath of the horrific murder trials that happened last fall in Knoxville. This bill would have a chilling effect on advocacy and the introduction was made merely to get political capital to use in his campaign for mayor. Are the police liable for overcharging a defendant for crimes they commit ? Are District Attorneys liable if they lose a case.
Criminal Justice issues shouldn’t be a political football. Judges,District Attorneys,criminal defense attorneys , and the public should be involved in the process rather than lobbyists , special interest groups , and those that want to make a splash in the press.
Gail Kerr had it right when she wrote " the State Legislature is in town lock up the whiskey and hide the women". I can only hope cooler heads prevail after the ink is dry on their press releases.