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The Rhode Island House has adopted a court sentencing law allowing prosecutors to seek no-parole prison terms for violent criminals who use guns. The Rhode Island House gave Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse a resounding political victory Tuesday, easily passing a sentencing bill that would give state prosecutors a potent new weapon: the threat of long, no-parole prison terms for violent criminals who use guns. The Senate passed a nearly identical bill last week. Gov. Lincoln Almond has said he would most likely sign the final measure when it reaches his desk, the Providence Journal reports. Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney, failed to win passage of a similar gun-sentencing measure in the House last year, his rookie season as the state’s top prosecutor. But in this legislative election year, his initiative found success. The House and Senate measures would impose extra penalties for felons who use a gun in the commission of a violent crime: 10 years for a first offense, 20 years for a second conviction, and life in prison for a third. Those prison terms would be tacked on to sentences for underlying crimes. Except in the case of a life sentence, convicts would be denied the possibility of parole. The bill was watered down from its original language to allow state judges to suspend some or all of the extra gun sentences. That was a key concession to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger, who opposed the bill at first, but now supports it. The compromise also made the bill more palatable to the trial lawyers who make up an influential portion of the legislature’s ranks, including House Speaker John B. Harwood and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Flaherty. The 94-3 vote in the House belied the lengthy floor debate. The get-tough steamroller was delayed, if not deterred, by Charles Levesque, D-Portsmouth, and George Levesque, D-Jamestown. The brother lawmakers each threw up a series of amendments designed to further compromise the bill. In his emotional arguments, George Levesque quoted from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”: “The quality of mercy is not strained … It falleth like the gentle rain from the heavens.”

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