Sept. 21, 2015 – The Wisconsin Supreme Court may hear a case to decide whether circuit courts can rely on Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) assessments when sentencing criminal defendants.
Judges in Wisconsin and other jurisdictions use COMPAS to determine whether a defendant should receive alternative sentences to incarceration, such as probation, based on risk to the community and the defendant’s programming or treatment needs.
In 2013, a circuit court judge relied on a COMPAS assessment and other factors to determine that defendant Eric Loomis was ineligible for probation. The judge said the risk assessment tool suggested Loomis presented a high risk to reoffend.
Loomis pleaded guilty to eluding officers with a vehicle and no contest to taking and driving a vehicle without consent. His charges for recklessly endangering safety and possessing a sawed-off shotgun as a felon were dismissed under the plea.
Loomis appealed his sentence. He says COMPAS lacks scientific validity and proprietary rights, held by the company that developed COMPAS, prohibits him from challenging the methodology that produces the assessment scores.
“As the circuit court observed, there is a compelling argument that judges make better sentencing decisions with the benefit of evidence-based tools such as COMPAS,” the Wisconsin Court of Appeals wrote in a certification to the state supreme court.
“Yet, if those tools lack scientific validity, or if defendants cannot test the validity of those tools, due process questions arise,” the appeals court certification states.
The appeals court said “prompt supreme court review is needed,” given the widespread use of COMPAS assessments in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear the case, State v. Loomis, if a majority of the seven justices agree to hear it.
Loomis notes that COMPAS was not developed to assist sentencing decisions, but for allocating resources and targeting program needs. He also argues that COMPAS distinguishes gender, and courts cannot rely on gender in making sentencing decisions.
“So far as we can tell, the fact that the scales are different depending on gender means that, all other facts being equal, assessment results will differ between men and women based on gender alone,” the appeals court wrote in its certification.
The appeals court noted that in State v. Samsa, 2015 WI App 6, the appeals court upheld a circuit court’s discretion to rely on COMPAS assessments, or parts of it. But the defendant in Samsa did not make the same due process arguments now at issue.