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Doing Time, But How Much?

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A task force looking at dividing crimes into classes is close to drafting its final recommendations.

I think we could propose having Class D be a zero-to-10-year class; Class E be a zero-to-five-year class,” suggests Scott Nettles, an attorney from Livingston.

But the Felony Class System Task Force is also looking to see if this will help solve the problem of calculating actual prison time.

Time computation — it’s complicated,” says Jonathan Vining, general counsel for the Department of Corrections. “I get two to three phone calls a day from a D.A. or a defense lawyer or a judge. They say, ‘Look, we’re thinking about giving the guy this. How much is he actually going to do?’”

Vining says frequent law changes make the math harder: for example, there’s the crime of vehicular homicide.

When did they commit it? If they committed it at this date, it was on the violent crimes list, and they’ve got to do 75 percent now. If they committed it on this date, it’s non-violent. And if they committed it after a certain date, it’s gone back to violent. That’s the kind of issues that we’re looking at.”

Representative Joe Marino of Gretna asked, “Can you give us any kind of a recommendation as to how to stop this?”

Pick a number, and make it apply to everybody,” Vining replied. “You know, make something retroactive. Make it consistent.”

That’s not our function,” Thibodaux Judge Jerome Barbera objected. “We’ve been talking about the back end, but we’re front end.”

But Rob Vines, an assistant D.A. from New Iberia, disagreed.

If our charge is to look into simplifying sentencing and making it more transparent, then I think we have to look at the back-end measures.”

Task force chair Kenneth Polite then asked, “One of the points that has been made is that it could help simplify it if it was made retroactive. What would be your opinion on that?”

We adopt an 85 percent rule across the board,” Vines responded. “Make it simple. It’d be easy to compute. Everybody would know.”