By Greg Markley
On his office Website, Lee County District Attorney Robert “Robbie” Treese displays a quote from the late U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson. Jackson said a good prosecutor “tempers zeal with human kindness.” Treese likes that quote because it so aptly describes the role of a district attorney. And it guides him as a member of the county’s Alternative Sentencing Board. (This article kicks off a series of articles on Lee County’s ASB.)
“Many grand jurors have told me (after spending a week with us) that they had no idea how we do what we do…considering all the horrors without forgetting the humanity,” he said. “At times we must be the sword of justice and at others, the shield.”
Treese and the courts voluntarily participated in applying sentencing guidelines even before they became mandatory and before he became district attorney. He also helped write the enabling legislation for the Alternative Sentencing Board/Drug Court, which has become a fixture of the Lee County justice system for several years. More recently, he created a first offender treatment program in District and Traffic Court, neither of which call for more state revenue and, if sustainable, may expand to Circuit cases. The goal: supervised treatment of treatable nonviolent and first-time offenders.
According to www.findlaw.com, sentences for a criminal conviction are varied; a conviction does not always mean going to jail or prison. The website points out that alternative sentences can include different combinations: a suspended sentence, probation, fines, restitution, community service and deferred adjudication/pretrial diversion. Judges determine whether to impose alternative sentences based on the type and severity of the crime, the defendants’ age, his or her criminal history, the crimes’ effect on the victims, and the defendant’s remorse.
Treese said: “The net effect of the mandatory sentencing standards is that both the district attorney and the Circuit court have limited authority to decide who goes to prison, who gets probation and what the range of sentence will be. Many of those decisions are now a matter of calculating the scores on a prison sentence worksheet. The pendulum has swung from mandatory habitual offender sentencing to mandatory sentencing guidelines…..which are ostensibly tailored to reducing the nonviolent prison population.”
He cautioned that the success of ASB programs goes beyond any particular individual or graduate. “For most, addiction will be a lifelong battle, “he said. “It isn’t possible to say how many overdose deaths have been prevented or how many additional arrests offenders avoid by any one person participating, for example, in drug court.”
The district attorney reiterated why Justice Jackson’s quote of 75 years ago remains one of his favorites and why it is part of the philosophy that directs his ASB role. Quoting Ecclesiastes 3:1, he said: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Reese added: “Knowing which season, sword or shield, is a matter of faith.”
The Lee County Alternative Sentencing Board’s next quarterly meeting is set for today, Friday, Sept. 11 at 7:30 a.m. The meeting will be held in Circuit Judge Jacob Walker III’s Jury Room (Room B-204) at the T. K. Davis Justice Center in Opelika.