The Important Issues: Budget, criminal measures show Wyo Senate bills aren’t all fun and games

By on March 1, 2018

Despite some of the bills introduced in the state legislature last week being little more than red meat for a lot of voters in the state, it wasn’t all fun and games for the legislature last week.

State legislators spent some time dealing with several important issues, even if the body still has yet to address the state’s looming budget woes. Last week, two criminal justice reform bills cleared their first hurdles in the legislature and will be sent on. Another bill, aimed at

It’s unclear if the measures will pass, however, as very similar ones passed the house last year, but failed to make it past “law and order” types in the Wyoming Senate.

The first of the two criminal justice reform bills, House Bill 42, would grant judges more leeway in their treatment of parole and probation violators. Rather than simply sending parole or probation violators directly to prison — where about 40 percent of inmates are parole or probation violators — under the proposed changes, judges could instead order several days in jail as a wakeup call for parolees and those on probation. Or, a judge could order an offender into substance abuse treatment for up to 90 days instead of prison.

While there are costs associated with establishing a drug treatment program since the legislature voted to disband an existing in-prison treatment program in 2016, the hopes of the bill are to ultimately reduce costs to the state. With each inmate costing the state approximately $35,000 per year and the state prison rapidly running out of space, programs that can keep non-violent offenders out of the crowbar hotel are increasingly appealing, even to dyed-in-the-wool law-and-order types.  

A second criminal justice proposal, House Bill 26, would change an existing law that prevents non-DNA exculpatory evidence more than two-years-old from being considered in the overturning of convictions. Under the existing system, even if a person can be proven to be innocent of a crime, they can remain in jail if the evidence is found more than two years after a wrongful conviction.  

If passed, HB 26 would allow such evidence to be weighed.

Any new evidence brought to the attention of the court must be newly-discovered evidence that is not merely a reinterpretation of existing evidence, according to the bill. Any such exculpatory evidence used to overturn a conviction must also not have been known to the defendant or the defendant’s legal counsel at the time of the original trial.

The court may also consider evidence that was available at the time of the original trial if the court finds the accused’s legal counsel provided ineffective assistance or failed to exercise due diligence uncovering evidence.  

While both of the reform measures passed their first hurdles in the house, it is unclear how they will fare in the Senate. Last year, two similar measures made it past the house, but both died in the state Senate.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE UNIFORMITY

The Wyoming State Senate also introduced new legislation last week, and one bill in particular is seeking to shore up punishments for domestic violence. Senate File 19, called the “Uniformity in domestic violence law,” was introduced by Joint Judiciary Interim Committee.

The state Senate voted to send the bill to the house for their consideration

The act doubles punishments meted out for some domestic violence offenses. Strangulation of a household member was reclassified as a domestic abuse crime, and its punishment was bumped from five years in the pokey to 10. A first charge of domestic assault now carries a six-month jail term in addition to a $750 fine. A second conviction will get the abuser a year in jail instead of six months.

The punishment for false imprisonment under the proposed law would double from five years’ incarceration to 10, and the accompanying fine would skyrocket from $2,000 to $10,000.

The Senate acted to pass the package of domestic abuse laws in order to bring some parity between those laws and other serious crimes not of a domestic nature. Under existing laws, punishments tend to be harsher for those convicted of violent crimes that are not classified as domestic abuse crimes.

The Senate attempted to pass a package of laws last year to address the disparity in the punishment of domestic abusers and other violent criminals, but some concerns by lawmakers about the proposed laws sank the effort.

The two criminal justice reform bills, House Bills 26 and 42 were accepted by the house and will move on for debate in the Senate just as they did last year. Senate File 19, the domestic abuse uniformity law, was passed in the Senate and will be sent to the house for a vote this legislative session. If any of the proposed bills pass both houses, they will then be forwarded to Gov. Matt Mead for his approval or veto. PJH


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