Republican lawmakers say an expected cap on probation in Minnesota would result in lenient sentences for a number of “heinous crimes like domestic assault, sex trafficking, and gang-related crimes.”
The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission advanced a proposal to cap probation sentences at five years during a November meeting and plans to put the measure up for a final vote in January, as The Minnesota Sun reported.
According to the proposed amendment, probation sentences would be capped at “five years or the statutory maximum term of probation, whichever is less.” The cap wouldn’t apply to “convictions for felony homicide or sex offenses.”
Republican lawmakers previously accused the Sentencing Guidelines Commission of violating the state’s open-meeting law by forcing a vote on a proposal that was only listed as a discussion item. The public agenda for the November 6 meeting described the measure as “Probation—Next Steps (Discussion Item).”
Before casting a final vote on the proposal, the commission held a public hearing Thursday and invited “all interested persons” to offer comments. Nearly 30 people offered testimony to the 11-member commission during the meeting, including Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge).
.@RepJohnsonMN testified at today's meeting against a proposal that would reduce sentences for heinous crimes including criminal vehicular homicide, domestic assault, kidnapping, sex trafficking, and more.
— MN House Republicans (@mnhousegop) December 19, 2019
“Capping probation for heinous crimes like domestic assault, sex trafficking, and gang-related crimes is a brazen attempt by this unelected board to usurp the authority of the Legislature,” Johnson, Republican lead on the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee, said in a statement. “It also intrudes upon the court’s authority to set sentences by making the probation cap mandatory.”
Johnson argued that there is “no clear authority for the commission to even make these changes in the first place.”
“Commission members have repeatedly raised concerns about this rushed process and lack of clear authority, but it’s apparent that the Walz Administration and Democrats are intent on jamming this change through. House Republicans will bring forward legislation to block this move, and make sure that the Legislature is able to weigh in on this important issue,” he added.
Democratic lawmakers attempted to pass a bill last session to institute similar probation caps, but it failed to pass during budget negotiations. Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis), the sponsor of that bill, said Minnesota’s “current probation system is failing the basic tests of fairness.”
If the commission adopts the probation caps, the only option for Republicans would be to introduce a bill to block its implementation, which would required the signature of Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said the Senate would take up legislation in response to the measure, calling it an “end-run around the Legislature” and “improper.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Minnesota Capitol” by Gabriel Vanslette. CC BY 3.0.