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Archive for Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tougher criminal justice system sought

November 16, 2005

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More criminals should have their DNA collected.

People convicted of sex crimes against children should be locked up for 25 years.

And judges in Kansas shouldn't be able to give criminals lighter sentences than what's called for by sentencing guidelines.

Those were some of the ideas bounced around Tuesday on the Kansas University campus at a meeting organized by Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline. It was the first meeting of a 29-member task force he appointed this year to find ways to make the state's criminal-justice system tougher.

"Our criminals ... are laughing at the judicial system," Wyandotte County Sheriff LeRoy Green told the crowd of about 60 people in the Big 12 room of the Kansas Union.

The task force - called "Security and Firm Enforcement (S.A.F.E.) for Kansans" - includes lawmakers, sheriffs and prosecutors from across the state, including Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern and Dist. Atty. Charles Branson.

One of its goals is to pass a version of "Jessica's Law," a law passed in Florida that requires a 25-year minimum sentence for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children and requires them to be tracked by a global-positioning device when they're released.

One of the speakers who attended at Kline's invitation was Becca Booth, a Lawrence resident who last year helped organize a group that tried to vote District Judge Paula Martin off the bench.

Martin granted two men probation and 60 days in jail for the statutory rape of an intoxicated 13-year-old girl, even though the crime normally carries a minimum penalty of about 13 years under sentencing guidelines. Booth said that letting judges make such a "radical departure" from the guidelines discourages victims from coming forward.

"When do we blame the criminals?" Booth asked. "When do they stop getting the benefit of the doubt?"

Shawnee County Dist. Atty. Robert Hecht, one of the task-force members, agreed with Booth, saying judges should be stripped of their ability to break from what's in the guidelines.

"The judge should be compelled to impose that sentence," Hecht said.

One of the speakers at the forum was Roger Kemp of Leawood, father of 19-year-old Ali Kemp, who was found beaten and strangled in 2002 in the pump room of a pool where she worked in Johnson County.

Kemp called for longer, tougher penalties for criminals, more widespread DNA collection and faster processing of the samples.

According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, there were 4.1 violent crimes per 1,000 residents last year in Kansas, compared with 4 in 2003; 2.4 in 2002; 3.8 in 2001 and 3.7 in 2000.

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