SENTENCING STATUTES: THE DEVIATION FROM FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES AND VARIATION AMONG STATES' SENTENCING LAWS.

AuthorWalsh, Ashley

Only the man who has enough good in him to feel the justice of the penalty can be punished ~ William Ernest Hocking

INTRODUCTION

Over the years, many cases have been brought before the United States Supreme Court to decide whether a state law is unconstitutional or whether the matter has federal standing. (1) Under Amendment X of the United States Constitution, states possess reserved powers separate from the federal government's powers. (2) These reserved powers grant each individual state the ability to create and abide by their own constitutions, statutes, and amendments, as long as there is no conflict with the United States Constitution. (3) Therefore, a state's power to create its own legislation allows it to utilize all, some, or none of the federal legislation or suggested materials as a model. (4)

Although states have some prohibitions of powers, they do possess the power to create their own sentencing statutes. (5) The ability to create state sentencing laws arises from Amendment X of the United States Constitution. (6) While keeping in mind that the interpretation cannot conflict with supreme laws, neighboring states can interpret sentencing models or create new sentencing laws however the state deems appropriate for its jurisdiction. (7) The existence of multiple state sentencing laws and one uniform federal sentencing guideline creates a question of whether or not this is the most effective method of dealing with criminal offenders. (8) Due to the increasing number of state sentencing guidelines and its supporters, state sentencing guideline developments are prospering. (9)

HISTORY

Although each state may create its own sentencing laws, the states tend to follow similar traditional social purposes behind sentencing. (10) Deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution, or just punishments, typically fall under one of the main categories of sentencing. (11) The purpose of deterrence is to increase the number of law-abiding citizens by deterring the public with serious consequences for criminal behavior. (12) Because some form of incapacitation generally follows an offense, whether it be incarceration or non-prison sanctions, jurisdictions can decide on the degree of incapacitation for the offender. (13) While the punishing of offenders lost popularity around the 1950s, many states remain to keep punishment as the central objective of state sentencing laws. (14) When appropriate and achievable, reparation or restitution is sought to replenish victims of crimes for their losses suffered. (15) Rehabilitating offenders, whether incarcerated or not, has two intertwining goals: reform the offender while simultaneously accomplishing other societal objectives. (16)

When a legislature is determining how to design and implement sentencing guidelines or laws, it must decide how much discretion is given to a judge or administrative agency. (17) For example, a legislature can determine that a certain crime be punishable by a set term of imprisonment with no judicial or administrative discretion, by a general range of imprisonment from which the judge will decide the sentence, or by an extremely wide range of imprisonment imposed by a judge with the duration of the sentence decided by an administrative agency. (18) Contemporary sentencing models stem from the previously mentioned statutory sentencing models and consist of determinate, indeterminate, mandatory minimums, presumptive sentencing guidelines, and voluntary and advisory sentencing guidelines. (19) Over the years, the popularity of some models have fluctuated. (20) Recently, some states have replaced indeterminate sentencing with a more structured sentencing model, involving determinate sentencing, mandatory minimum penalties, and sentencing guidelines. (21)

Should concern arise regarding the constitutionality of a state's sentence under the United States Constitution, after exhausting all appeals, motions, and habeas corpus petitions in the state court, the federal government may receive a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to hear the case, and render a decision. (22) A state prisoner can claim cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment if he or she is subjected to excessive sanctions. (23) The application of this doctrine, codified in 28 U.S.C. [section] 2254(b)-(c), requires that the state prisoner notify the state courts of the claim being challenged before a federal court can hear the prisoner's assertion regarding the legality of the current sentence. (24) This requirement ensures the state has an opportunity to correct any constitutional violations in the prisoner's claim first. (25)

PART I--MASSACHUSETTS SENTENCING LAWS

In Massachusetts, the theories surrounding punishment of criminal offenders consists of protection of the public, reformation of the criminal, retribution, and deterrence. (26) A first degree murder conviction is punishable by state imprisonment for life without parole. (27) A conviction of second degree murder is punishable by state imprisonment for life with eligibility of parole after the term of years fixed by the court pursuant to Chapter 279, Section 24 of the Annotated Laws of Massachusetts. (28) The court utilizes indeterminate sentencing and may fix a term of imprisonment with a minimum term not less than fifteen years and not exceeding twenty-five years, and a maximum term not exceeding the longest term of punishment for second degree murder fixed by the law. (29) Manslaughter is punishable by state imprisonment not exceeding twenty years or by imprisonment in jail or a house of correction not exceeding two and one half years, and a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars. (30) If the court sentences the defendant to state prison on a manslaughter conviction, the court fixes a maximum term not exceeding the longest term of punishment for manslaughter fixed by the law, twenty years in this case, and at least a one year minimum term. (31)

PART II--NEW HAMPSHIRE SENTENCING LAWS

In New Hampshire, a felony conviction can result in a defendant going to prison for more than one year. (32) New Hampshire separates felonious crimes into two classes, "A" and "B," however, although murder is a felony, it does not fall under either of these classes. (33) First degree murder, second degree murder, and manslaughter have their own sentencing laws. (34) A conviction of first degree murder holds a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. (35) A second degree murder conviction is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment for life or the court may order its own term. (36) However, when a court orders a life sentence for second degree murder, both the minimum and maximum terms are within the court's discretion. (37) When a court orders a maximum term other than a life sentence for second degree murder, the minimum cannot exceed half of the maximum term. (38) If evidence supports the presence of an extreme indifference to the value of human life, then the jury may convict with murder in the second degree; if an extreme indifference does not exist, the jury may convict by manslaughter. (39) Manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding thirty years. (40) In addition to a sentence of imprisonment, a fine may be imposed not exceeding $4,000 for a felony. (41)

PART III--NEW YORK SENTENCING LAWS

In New York, a felony means an offense for which imprisonment can exceed one year. (42) New York has classifications ranging from Class A to Class E for felonies, with Class A consisting of two subcategories, A-l and A-II. (43) Within the individual section for a particular felony is the appropriate classification. (44) Murder in the first and second degree are class A-I felonies, manslaughter in the first degree is a class B felony, and manslaughter in the second degree is a class C felony. (45) The state abides by determinative sentences that run for a specific period and indeterminate sentences that state a minimum and maximum range. (46)

With some exceptions, if a court orders a sentence of imprisonment for a felony, it is an indeterminate sentence. (47) The term of an indeterminate sentence is to be not less than three years and depending on the felony class, the maximum term fixed by the court varies. (48) A class A felony maximum sentence term is life imprisonment, a class B felony sentence term cannot exceed twenty-five years, and a class C felony sentence term cannot exceed fifteen years. (49) Under an indeterminate sentence, the minimum period of imprisonment is to be not less than one year and similar to the maximum term, the court fixes the minimum period depending on the class of the felony. (50) With the exception...

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