Bill will allow courts to depart from mandatory minimum sentences

SENATOR Paul A. Manglona has introduced a measure that will allow CNMI courts to depart from applicable mandatory minimum sentences and alleviate some of the financial burden on the commonwealth by reducing its prison population.

Manglona’s Senate Bill 20-20 will add a new chapter to 6 CMC Division 4, NMI Justice Safety Valve Act of 2016.

He said the commonwealth needs a law similar to the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 and should follow the states that have embraced similar sentencing safety valves enacted under the federal law.

“The federal legislation, like the ones enacted by eight states and our neighboring island Guam, is a sound way to reduce prison populations and save money, while at the same time protecting public safety,” the bill stated.

“This policy is a common-sense understanding that minimum sentences may be appropriate in a lot of cases but not in non-violent cases.”

According to the measure, “Giving the court more flexibility in sentencing will improve the justice system and incarcerations should be reserved first and foremost to keep the public safe from violent offenders.”

The bill’s key provisions read:

“Chapter 3. NMI Justice Safety Valve Act of 2016. This section shall be cited as the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2016. Section 101. Sentencing. (a) notwithstanding any other provision of law, when sentencing a person convicted of a violation for which there is a mandatory minimum sentence but which did not: (1) include the use, attempted use or threated use of serious physical force by the defendant against another person or result in the serious physical injury of another person by the defendant; or (2) involve any sexual assault offense by defendant prohibited under 6 CMC Subsections 1301 to 1304 and sexual abuse prohibited under 6 CMC Subsections 1306 to 1309.

“(b) the court may depart from the applicable mandatory minimum sentence if the court finds substantial and compelling reasons on the record that in giving due regard to the nature of the crime, history and character of the defendant and his or her chances of successful rehabilitation that: (1) imposition of the mandatory minimum would result in substantial injustice to the defendant; and (2) the mandatory minimum sentence is not necessary for the protection of the public.”

But the proposed Section 101 “shall not apply if the court finds that: the individual has a conviction for the same offense during the 10-year period prior to the commission of the offenses; that the individual intentionally uses a firearm in a manner that causes physical injury during the commission the commission of the offense; and if the individual was the leader, manager or supervisor of others in a continuing criminal enterprise.”