Senate committee would allow lesser sentences for noncitizens, but only to prevent ‘harsh' justice

Richard Mauer

JUNEAU -- A bill targeting immigrants who would face deportation for a criminal conviction in Alaska was toned down in a senate committee Friday, allowing judges to consider the consequences if a sentence would result in someone being deported.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said the amendment could result in a reduced Alaska sentence for a woman if a longer sentence resulted in her deportation to a country where she could face murder. But it would allow a full sentence -- and deportation -- if there were no such "harsh collateral consequences."

At issue is a U.S. immigration policy that in some cases requires deportation after a legal resident serves a prison sentence of a year or more. Alaska has minimum sentencing guidelines, but trial judges are allowed to seek a lower sentence by a special three-judge panel if they find that the minimum would result in a "manifest" injustice.

In two recent cases, trial judges have recommended that non-citizens with long histories in Alaska get less than the minimum to prevent their deportation to countries they barely knew -- the Dominican Republican and Jamaica. One of the cases is pending, but in the other, the three-judge panel and the state's Court of Appeals agreed to a 364-day sentence for a military veteran, a day below the minimum.

The Parnell administration originally wanted House Bill 218, introduced by House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, to never allow a lower sentence for noncitizen than a citizen.

Chenault's aide, Tom Wright, said the amendment was a compromise between the Attorney General's office and the state Public Defender.

"Both sides have a little unease on this so it must be a good compromise," Wright said.

Annie Carpeneti of the Attorney General's office said the new version says that "just the fact of being deportable is not something that can go to a three-judge panel for sentencing. But if the defendant can establish 'unduly harsh collateral consequences' and the sentencing judge finds that those claims are proved by clear and convincing evidence, that could be considered as a basis for going to a three-judge panel."

A special case might be appropriate for someone who would be sent back to Syria, or a situation that might have been faced by a Jewish person being deported to Nazi Germany, Carpeneti said.

McGuire said she liked the amendment.

"While I agree that those who have immigrated here shouldn't have more rights than U.S. citizens," McGuire said, "I did worry about those cases where someone (is) seeking political asylum -- and I think particularly about women in Islamic countries and places like that where the potential to go back home might mean murder."

The bill passed the House 30-9 on March 13 largely along party lines, though there were some crossovers: two Republicans were opposed (Reps. Lindsey Holmes and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage) and six Democrats in favor (Reps. Chris Tuck, Anchorage; Bryce Edgmon, Dillingham; Neal Foster, Nome; Bob Herron, Bethel; Scott Kawasaki, Fairbanks; and Ben Nageak, Barrow).

If the Senate judiciary committee version passes the Senate, the House would have to consent to the change.

Reach Richard Mauer at or (907) 500-7388.

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