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Elain Ellerbe | September 22, 2017
At the initial meeting of the Louisiana Felony Class Task Force, all 12 task-force members or their designees were in attendance. This initial meeting was chaired by Supreme Court Justice Bernadette Johnson. She related the reason for the committee being convened—which stems from Senate Bill 220 (now Act 281) of the 2017 Louisiana Legislature—in which the task force was called to allow court players such as the district attorneys, public defenders, judges and other members of the legal community, to do a deeper analysis of Louisiana’s felony grid and sentence structure. As outlined in Act 281, the charge to the committee states:
The Louisiana Legislature determined that it is in the best interest of the public to have, to the greatest extent possible, a clear, regular, and simple sentencing system, whereby nearly every felony offense falls into a class, with sentencing to be imposed by designated class, to ensure consistency across crimes of similar severity and greater transparency for victims, defendants and criminal justice practitioners. Such a system will be referred to as a felony class system.
The Louisiana Legislature authorizes and directs the creation of the Louisiana Felony Class System Task Force to study, evaluate, and develop a recommendation for a felony class system to the legislature before the 2018 Regular Louisiana Legislative Session.
In a recent The Advocate-Baton Rouge article regarding the naming of former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite as the Louisiana Supreme Court’s designee to the task force, Pete Adams, Executive Director of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association, was quoted stating his continued skepticism of changing the felony grid system. While Mr. Adams stated he wants to remain open minded, he also said that his three delegates to the task force “will seek to torpedo any proposal that smells of an attempt to create leniency in the sentencing provisions without having to go statute to statute.” This mindset was apparent at the outset of the meeting, with one of the DA’s delegates questioning whether establishing the felony grid system was a foregone conclusion (because she and the other DA delegates are not in agreement that a new felony grid is necessary). Supreme Court Justice Johnson countered that consideration of a new felony grid was indeed one of the charges by the Legislature and that the task force is to present a report to the Legislature with their best recommendations.
Officers were elected with Kenneth Polite being named chairman and Representative Joe Marino being named co-chair. Rep. Marino is the Governor’s Office designee and one of the legislators who championed the successful passage of the justice reinvestment legislation package. Both of these individuals were highly recommended by Right on Crime, so it is encouraging to see them not only on the task force, but also holding leadership positions.
Chairman Polite suggested, and the members agreed, that the task force in moving forward to consider “uncoupling” the classification process from sentencing initially so that agreement can be reached on how felonies should be classified. The next meeting will be October 13th, with the group meeting at least five more times prior to the deadline for the report to be given to the Legislature – February 2018.
Right on Crime will continue to monitor the task force and provide assistance as needed.