Annual Meeting

Let courts consider a prosecutor's recommendation to reduce a sentence, ABA House says

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The House of Delegates continued to tackle the problem of overincarceration in the United States during the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver on Monday.

Resolution 504 urges government bodies to adopt “prosecutor-initiated resentencing” laws that permit courts to consider a prosecutor’s recommendation to recall and resentence an incarcerated person to a lesser sentence.

The Criminal Justice Section sponsored the resolution, which was overwhelmingly adopted.

Stephen Saltzburg, a section representative to the House of Delegates, reminded his colleagues that this measure follows another one that urges governments to authorize courts to hear petitions to allow de novo hearings that take a “second look” at the sentences of individuals who have been incarcerated for at least 10 years. The House adopted that resolution at the 2022 ABA Annual Meeting.

“This says if prosecutors think 10 years is too long to wait, they ought to be able to come in and seek to reduce a sentence,” Saltzburg told the House. “That’s all this is about.”

In 2019, more than 770,000 people in U.S. prisons were serving sentences of 10 years or longer, which comprised 56% of the total prison population, according to data from the Sentencing Project that is cited in the resolution’s report. This is a marked increase from 2000, when 587,000 people—or 44% of the prison population—were serving 10 years or longer.

One in seven—or about 204,000—people in U.S. prisons were serving life or virtual life sentences in 2020, according to another study from the Sentencing Project that is also noted in the report. The Sentencing Project also says people of color comprised more than two-thirds of those serving life sentences.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting here.

Resolution 504 also encourages governments to enact laws to:

  • Allow prosecutors to recommend resentencing an incarcerated person to a lesser sentence to further the interests of justice.
  • Direct resources to prosecutor’s offices, community organizations and other stakeholders for resentencing efforts.
  • Identify current sentences that may no longer serve the interests of justice.
  • Comply with state and federal law by notifying involved victims.
  • Create eligibility criteria and policies for sentences to be considered for recall and resentencing.

At last year’s annual meeting, the House also adopted the ABA Ten Principles on Reducing Mass Incarceration. One of the principles is to implement second-look policies that require regular review and, if appropriate, reduce lengthy sentences.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Prosecutors are working toward the release of the longest-serving inmates”

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