I am a paralegal at the Legal Aid Society and an expert in both software application development and state and local criminal sentencing. So I developed "Sentence Calculator" a fully automated web-based and mobile software that is the first of its kind in the United States. I built it because I saw a gaping hole in this area and one that my job required to continually address. What began as a series of macros in Excel, has become the very first state of the art state and local sentencing system: Sentence Calculator.
Each year, in New York State alone, over 400,000 criminal sentences are handed out, each of which is calculated using 50 different formulas, recalculated manually and stored insecurely as hardcopy, an unwieldy paper trail that meanders through the current system.
In New York State there are but a handful of criminal sentencing experts out of over 10,000 attorneys, judges, legal staff, correctional officers and advocacy groups responsible to the public and their clients for accurate sentencing. This:
1) Creates an unjust and unfair legal system
2) Costs taxpayers millions of dollars
3) Creates vulnerability in the system subject to potential litigationThe public is mostly unaware of this failing of the justice system.
Criminal Sentencing is an inherently complex process for two major reasons: first, sentencing Law is a fluid and ever changing system of lawsÍ¾ second, that changes to the law and the addition of new laws are not seamlessly integrated, instead they are layered upon existing laws. Identifying and applying the right statute(s) poses a challenge to even seasoned professionals.
Moreover, the system is terribly convoluted: manually calculating sentences requires hunting down multiple pieces of information from various sources, often in hardcopy. Calculations require performing a number of complex mathematical equations and sentences for repeat offenders, and sentences with multiple convictions sentences are difficult to calculate for even the experts. Finding the correct statutes, without the expertise to do so or access to experts, leads to errors of interpretation. Manual calculations are subject to human error.
In April, 2015 we began a pilot project with The Legal Aid Society, the nation’s oldest and largest public law firm with over 240,000 criminal cases each year and 800 attorneys. They have been piloting the software exclusively. The pilot project with LAS has served to live test SC and fine tune the software so that it can be widely implemented. SC, in both its desktop and mobile platforms, is highly customizable to serve all legal and corrections professionals and the public and was designed to adapt easily to changes in the law. Mobile capability provides real-time calculations during critical plea negotiations which is the process by which 90|PERCENT| of criminal cases in NYS are resolved.
New York and New Jersey are primed for the first statewide rollouts because these states aim to lead the nation in criminal justice reform.
Implementing technological reforms to the Criminal Justice System in NY and NJ will require the cooperation and partnership of key stakeholders from the following areas: the Judiciary, Prosecutors, Public and Private Defense Providers, Correctional Departments, Advocacy Groups, Policy Institutes, Universities and Colleges.
A proper defense cannot be mounted unless the defendant knows all of the possible outcomes of his or her case. In almost all cases, information on possible sentencing outcomes is not available to the defendant or his or her attorney. This results in a poorly informed decision making process for what is often the most important negotiation in the life of a person who has been charged with a crime: the plea bargain.
One of the goals of this project is to collect data to assess the effectiveness of automating criminal sentencing in reducing prison and jail populations. In only its first year of the pilot project, Sentence Calculator saved 5,800 days of jail time in NYS. If implemented statewide it is likely that automating sentencing calculations could result in reduction of incarcerated populations. Regardless, an efficient system will save taxpayer dollars that can then be directed to promote public safety such as better approaches to drug and mental health treatment, reducing recidivism and eliminating collateral consequences through reentry programs, and promoting accountability across the board, throughout the Criminal Justice System.
The public is unaware that a major miscarriage of justice is possible in the Criminal Justice System in faulty sentencing calculations. Reform measures and the public’s support for them will ensure fairness and accuracy in sentencing and a transparent and just process for all. This cutting edge software is the first comprehensive technological solution to a major challenge of the justice system.