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Criminal sentencing varies among Texas, NM, US

Half a century behind bars sounds like a long time, but how many years will Samuel Perez and Alberto Coronado actually serve?

That’s a tough one. Both were tried in a Texas court, so jurors handed down the sentences. But if and when they make parole is now in the hands of the state parole board — and they look at a number of factors.

“It’s a fairly just system,” said Ken Del Valle, a criminal defense attorney. “If you’ve got a mother with six kids, whose a non-violent offender, they’ll want her out, because somebody’s paying for her family. The rest of us, all the taxpayers, are feeding her family while she’s in there.”

Del Valle said it costs about $30,000 a year to keep someone in prison, so a parole board might loosen the reins — but they can’t be too lenient.

“Most governors want conservative parole board members,” Del Valle said, “so that the governor will not be accused of being lenient on criminals.”

Time served begins where every trial ends: sentencing. Like parole decisions, sentencing looks different case by case.

“The nature of the offense, the criminal history, the danger of the person to society,” Del Valle said.

You’ll find those factors on a federal sentencing chart, and you’ll find that chart among the dcor in Del Valle’s office. He explains the process to every defendant he represents.

“Every federal offense has an offense level,” Del Valle said. “These are the criminal history points … you end up with four points, and you are thus in criminal history category three.”

Most federal crimes allow for release after serving 85 percent of the sentence. Remember — no parole in federal courts. And federal judges determine the sentence.

“If the state charges you, it can be a bogus or improvidently filed charge,” Del Valle said.

In Texas and New Mexico courts, most crimes allow for parole after serving half the sentence. In Texas, the jury hands it down.

“As a defense attorney, you would never want a jury to find out that if the jury comes back out with a 60-month, 5-year sentence, your guy’s going be out in 2.5 years,” Del Valle said. “Because then they’re going to sentence him to 10 years.”

However, in New Mexico, judges determine sentencing, said Chief Deputy District Attorney RoxeAnne Esquibel, of New Mexico’s Third Judicial District.

New Mexico state judges have a lot of discretion, she said. Most of the time, a judge can suspend much or all of the sentence.

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