Jan 22, 2021 By Jim Ash Senior Editor Top Stories Bill would allow prosecutors to seek resentencing if it ‘advances the interest of justice’ Sen. Jeff BrandesProsecutors could petition for resentencing if a felon’s original punishment “no longer advances the interest of justice” under a bill by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.SB 662, filed January 14, is nearly identical to a Washington state law that was enacted last year.Jacksonville defense attorney A. Wellington Barlow, a veteran reform advocate, says the measure could go a long way toward correcting unequal or overly harsh sentences that have contributed to mass incarceration.“It has the potential to be the most significant piece of legislation that addresses criminal justice reform that I’ve ever seen coming out of the state of Florida,” he said.The measure would require prosecutors to make “a reasonable effort” to notify victims if a resentencing hearing is granted. It would permit victims to deliver a statement “personally or by representation.”Judges would not be permitted to exceed the original sentence.The measure would increase a prosecutor’s discretion without imposing a mandate, and it has the potential to save taxpayers millions of dollars in prison costs, Barlow said.A. Wellington Barlow“For every year that we knock off of a client’s sentence, that’s saving the taxpayers about $22,000 a year, according to the latest OPPAGA study,” Barlow said, referring to the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. “I don’t see how anyone could oppose this.”The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association has no position on the bill, said its president, Phil Archer.However, saying he was only weighing in as 18th Circuit state attorney, Archer recently sent a letter to the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee to oppose a proposed rule amendment that would have much the same effect as the bill.The proposed amendment to Rule 3.800 would allow a court to modify or reduce a sentence “upon the stipulation of the state attorney and the defendant.”State attorneys from the Ninth and 17th circuits wrote the committee to support the amendment. Archer’s colleagues from the Second and 14th circuits joined him in opposing the proposed amendment.Dated January 15, Archer’s letter is addressed to Second Judicial Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey, the committee chair.“I firmly believe that the potential consequences of opening up prior sentences at any time for any reason will be devastating to victims and survivors and does not serve justice,” Archer wrote.Calling the “finality” of sentencing an important component of the justice system, Archer says that trials, pleas, and sentencing hearings are “incredibly stressful” for victims and their families.“The idea that these same victims and survivors may be forced to repeat this process again for no other reason than the current state attorney has decided to change the sentence is unreasonable and cruel,” Archer wrote.Sentences can be revisited if new evidence arises or questions are raised about the actual innocence of the defendant, Archer said.“But this would allow a reduction or modification of a sentence based on nothing more than a future state attorney’s determination that his or her judgment is ‘better’ than the state attorney that was in office when the sentence was imposed.”SB 662 has yet to be referred to a committee. There is no House companion. The 60-day session convenes March 2.