Panels created to quell controversy

Local,Crime,Emily Babay

The sentencing review panels now under fire in Maryland due to a recent drunken-driving case in Montgomery County were created in hopes of quelling controversy over sentences.

A law creating the three-judge panels was enacted after a 1965 report on criminal sentences in the state found "alarmingly disparate" penalties, according to Maryland Court of Appeals opinions that address the act and its history.

It's rare to have a separate review process -- like the three-judge panels -- solely for sentences, said Douglas Berman, a sentencing law expert at Ohio State University. Local officials said a handful of other states have some form of sentencing reviews, but no other state appears to have a system directly comparable to Maryland's, according to the National Center for State Courts.

Sentencing review panels might be an effective way to correct for extreme sentences, Berman said.

"There's some value in having a panel double-check whether that's not just permissible, but a good judgment," Berman said.

In recent years, 70 percent to 80 percent of sentences in Maryland are within guidelines, according to the State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy.

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