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Laurel Gift Testifies Before the PA Commission on Sentencing as Regional VP of the PA Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

On August 22, 2019 by Schnader in Criminal Defense

Laurel Gift, Chair of Schnader’s Criminal Defense Practice Group, testified on August 22, 2019 before the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, addressing the Sentence Risk Assessment Instrument recently proposed by the Commission. Gift testified on behalf of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (PACDL) in her roles as Regional Vice President, Co-Chair of the Advocacy Committee, and Founder and Chairperson of the Allegheny Chapter of PACDL.

Act 2010-95 mandates the Commission to “adopt a Sentence Risk Assessment Instrument for the sentencing court to use to help determine the appropriate sentence within the limits established by law… The risk assessment instrument may be used as an aide in evaluating the relative risk that an offender will reoffend and be a threat to public safety” (42 Pa.C.S.§2154.7). On June 13, 2019, the Commission issued proposed modifications to the Sentence Risk Assessment Instrument and scheduled hearings to receive public comment.

In her testimony, Gift stated:

“The members of PACDL continue to have significant concerns about the use of the Risk Assessment Instrument as proposed by the Commission in determining the length of an individual’s sentence. Act 2010-95 mandates the Commission to adopt an Instrument, which can be used by the sentencing court to determine the appropriate sentence for an individual offender, within the limits of the law. Yet after more than three years, multiple hearings, and hundreds of hours of testimony by ex-offenders, the defense bar, victims and families of victims, probation/parole officials, and law enforcement, the instrument currently being considered by this Commission, as an empirical tool to identify those offenders at a high risk of reoffending, is still no more reliable than a coin-flip. In addition to the concerns raised during our prior testimony, we raise additional concerns for your consideration today and urge the Commission to inform the General Assembly that it should rescind its mandate, in favor of economic and judicial economy.”

Click here to read Gift’s full testimony.

Pictured with Laurel Gift (seated in forefront) are Mark H. Bergstrom, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing and Judge Tamara R. Bernstein, Cambria County, Commission Member