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Reformers changing sentencing guidelines

The bipartisan First Step bill seeks to change the federal sentencing laws, but there are reports that District Attorneys are already on board at the state and local levels. According to a recent story in the New York Times, there is a wave DAs across the country from both Republican and Democratic backgrounds that are taking a restorative approach to prosecuting and sentencing. Examples of this new approach include:

Reducing the level of punishment

The United States has some of the most stringent sentencing laws in the world, which are deemed neither necessary for public safety nor a good use of resources. It is also believed that locking defendants up also makes them more prone to commit future crimes and limits their earning capacity.

Making jail the exception, not the rule

Misdemeanors make up as much as 80 percent of the criminal cases. There is a belief that cases that do not include serious violence or injury should not include jail time. Such states as New York, New Jersey and California's 25 percent reduction of incarceration correlates with an even bigger drop to the number of crimes committed. Moreover, the number of teenagers incarcerated is down by half, which is also tied to a major drop in the number of crimes committed.

Be more selective about cases prosecuted

These DAs are looking at dismissing cases where the evidence is weak, so the criminal justice system is not overburdened.

Be more sensible about sentencing

Rather than using a bigger sentence as a motivator to plea bargain, there is a belief that sentences should better reflect the actual crime instead of the heavier penalty.

Less criminalization of teen behavior

DAs need to consider typical adolescent brain development when prosecuting such behavior as fighting or other infractions in school.Expungement of juvenile records if no new charges occur within a few years can also help. There is a further call to stop trying teens under 18 as adults unless the charges include seriously violent offenses.

Elimination of cash bail

Many believe that cash bail is a systemic way to punish the poor who cannot pay.

Do not charge immigrants differently

Immigrants face stiffer sentences for certain crimes, which in turn can lead to incarceration and deportation. Prosecutors are becoming more aware of the implications of certain sentences. The threat of aggressive sentencing can also dissuade potential witnesses from appearing as a witness or even reporting a crime.

Attorneys are still an important part of this process

While this movement has taken root across the country, it is still important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. They can often argue on a client's behalf to better reflect the charges or have them dismissed.

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