West Virginia Attorneys feel homicide penalties need adjusting

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – You probably know the phrase: Does the punishment fit the crime?

In the case of homicides here in West Virginia, some attorneys feel that the answer isn’t always yes.

“Homicide offense, sometimes, have penalties that just don’t correlate with the severity of the offense,” said Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Benjamin Hatfield.

A determinant sentence means that the judge selects the number of years for a sentence from a starting point. For first-degree robbery, that’s 10 years and up. For second-degree murder, the maximum sentence is far less.

“40 years is the maximum sentence on a second-degree murder, but you could potentially get more on a first-degree robbery,” Hatfield said.

In the spring, Hatfield’s office prosecuted a man who had committed murder. Not just in Raleigh County, but in Kanawha County before that, where he was sentenced to and then released from prison.

“There’s an actual present example of someone who shouldn’t have been out to commit a crime,” said Raleigh County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brian Parsons. “Then, took another life in our county.”

It’s not just about Hatfield and Parsons getting what they believe is a fair sentence. Families and friends are impacted by the punishments determined in these cases.

“They’ll be disappointed, often times,” Parsons said. “We have no control over that.”

But as of now, there’s no timeline for what appears to be a necessary change.

“We enforce the laws as they’re written, the statutes as they are in the books right now,” Hatfield said. “That’s the most we can do.”

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