Faculty member’s app to improve sentencing process

UNC’s Jamie Markham will lead a team creating an innovative mobile app to improve the accuracy and consistency of North Carolina’s criminal sentencing process.

Markham, an assistant professor of public law and government in the UNC School of Government, won the 2012 C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities, a campus-based honor that included $75,000 to fund the project.

The app will help North Carolina’s legal practitioners identify the correct sentence that should be given to an offender under the state’s Structured Sentencing law.

The law, first passed in 1994, established statutory charts—also known as sentencing grids—that provide judges with options for the type and length of sentences that may be imposed, based on a crime’s severity and any prior criminal record on the part of the offender.

But recent revisions to the law have made it more complex, according to Markham, leading to confusion and mistakes as evidenced by state Division of Adult Correction data showing an uptick in erroneous sentences.

The app will guide users through the sentencing process, from choosing the proper grid to the ultimate decision of whether the defendant will go to prison or be placed on probation.

“Errors and inconsistencies in the administration of justice—even if accidental—can call into question the fairness and integrity of the system,” Markham said. “When liberty is at stake, we should strive for perfection.”

Content for the app will stem from Markham’s expertise in the field. He teaches sentencing law to new North Carolina judges and prosecutors as part of the School of Government’s annual training programs for new officials. He also offers similar instruction to defense lawyers, probation officers, law students and others throughout the year.

The app will also tap the expertise of other project team members, who include legal practitioners from around the state.

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Published January 29, 2013.