Press Release - Office of the Governor

Murkowski Signs Bill Fixing Criminal Sentencing Statutes

March 22, 2005

(Juneau) Governor Frank H. Murkowski Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 56 giving judges broader sentencing discretion in felony cases. The change to the state's sentencing laws was made necessary by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer requiring Alaska, 12 other states and the federal government to change their sentencing systems.

In Blakely v. Washington, the court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires a jury, not the sentencing judge, to determine whether aggravating circumstances exist to increase a convicted defendant's prison sentence.

"In keeping with this administration's vision of strengthening our criminal justice system it was imperative that we fix our sentencing laws this legislative session," said Murkowski. "I asked our legislature to address this issue and they embraced that task with diligence. I commend their efforts to protect the people of Alaska."

For over 25 years Alaska's sentencing statutes provided a statutory baseline for imposing felony sentences. Judges had the discretion to modify these sentences upward based upon the unique facts of each case. The Blakely decision created a potential attack on the constitutionality of state law, gave rise to inconsistent trial court rulings and generated numerous appeals.

Legislation introduced by Senators Gene Therriault (R-North Pole) and Ralph Samuels (R-Anchorage) create a "presumptive" range of years for felony convictions. Judges will have the discretion to weigh the facts and circumstances of individual defendants to determine an appropriate sentence within the presumptive range.

"This new approach portrays a convicted criminal's true background and history that cannot be whitewashed by cleaning up and coaching this person at sentencing," said Murkowski. "Our judges possess the wisdom and specialized experience to fashion an appropriate sentence that might otherwise elude an earnest juror with no previous exposure to the criminal justice system."

The Blakely legislation became effective immediately upon its signing.

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