"What we are tasked with accomplishing is to create a system for over 600 felony offenses," explains former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite, who is chairing the state's Felony Class System Task Force.
The group is looking to categorize offenses as A, B, C, D types, etc., generally based on current sentence ranges delineated in Louisiana law. Polite admits it's not easy to untangle the issues.
"In many cases, those offenses seem to overlap and address the same types of conduct, and yet the sentencing regimes for those offenses were all over the map."
There's also the problem of grouping unlike crimes together. Some task force members gave examples.
"Theft of greater than $25,000."
"Intentional failure to sustain life or health of an aborted viable infant."
"Manufacture, distribution or possession with intent to distribute more than 2 ½ pounds of marijuana or synthetic marijuana."
"Inciting a riot, if death occurs."
Under the guidelines, they would all be Class C felonies — punishable by not less than one, nor more than 20 years at hard labor.
Those guidelines came from last year's Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force and were originally contained in Senate President John Alario’s SB 220. But the Louisiana District Attorney's Association objected then, and — although they have representatives on this year's Class System Task Force — they continue to bristle about the whole proposal.
Rob Vines, 1st Assistant D.A. for the 16th JDC, which covers Iberia, St. Mary and St. Martin parishes, insists the D.A.'s Association did not agree to create the class system — merely to study the idea.
"The general public is paying attention to what we do here, and it is my firmly held belief that they are not in favor of this movement that purports to be about simplicity and transparency, but is really about releasing criminals from jail and saving money — without concern for the cost to public safety."