HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A number of law enforcement personnel say they are increasingly frustrated to see violent criminals being released on probation or getting soft sentences.
Defense attorney and former prosecutor Victor Bakke says Hawaii’s sentencing laws have a troublesome gap and it often pushes prosecutors to go after lesser charges.
For example, Richard Lam is accused of shooting a man twice in the leg in Kalihi last month.
Walter Gomes III is accused of shooting a woman in the face last month on the Big Island and evading police for 12-days.
Both men are charged with assault.
Why not attempted murder?
“The problem with the attempted murder charge is that the government has to prove intent to kill – and that is often a very difficult thing to prove,” said Bakke.
Murder and attempted murder are both punishable by life in prison with or without parole.
Then there is manslaughter which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
There are also several degrees of assault with maximum punishments from 10 years to one year in prison, and a minimum punishment of probation.
Bakke says if the victim doesn’t die, prosecutors are left with two options: attempted murder or assault.
"You have somebody shooting somebody and the range of the sentence is anywhere from probation to life,” Bakke said.
In Lam’s case who shot a man in the leg twice, he had previously been charged with assault for stabbing someone near the Keeaumoku McDonald’s back in 2013 but was sentenced to five weekends in jail and four years of probation.
State Sen. Karl Rhoads was part of a committee that reviewed the state’s penal code in 2015 which consisted of about 40 people including prosecutors, defense attorneys and lawmakers.
He said this was not an issue the committee thought merited a proposed amendment and says there are usually other charges that can up the penalty.
“With a gun involved, that makes the defendant’s life more difficult because you can get an add on sentence that can be mandatory,” said Rhoads. “And then of course if the gun is stolen, there’s a possible charge there. If the person ran or resisted arrest, you can be charged with multiple things.”
However, he said he does believe jail overcrowding is a factor in judge’s sometimes giving people probation.
Another example is Tony Leaai who was on probation for a 2018 kidnapping and terroristic threatening case.
Leaai has 39 prior convictions.
He is now wanted by police for violating his probation.