11 Jul Judge Discretion in Massachusetts Sentencing
Judge Discretion in Massachusetts Sentencing
In the state of Massachusetts, just as in most other states, statutory sentencing guidelines set minimum and maximum sentence ranges for various offenses. If you have been convicted of a criminal offense in Massachusetts, however, the decision of the judge may not always track the sentencing guidelines. Sentencing judges are given discretion to depart from the sentencing guidelines range — both below or above the range — when mitigating or aggravating factors exist, and after full consideration of the facts, circumstances, evidence, and opinions of the case.
If you have been charged with a crime, it is critical that you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who has a track record of success in avoiding the imposition of excessive sentences, and in securing sentences that are less severe than those recommended by the statutory guidelines.
In matters where the judge has discretion to depart from statutory guidelines, persuasive argument can spell the difference between a difficult prison sentence and a much lighter sentence.
Mitigating and Aggravating Factors
For the sentencing judge to depart from the statutory sentencing guidelines, he or she must find that at least one mitigating or aggravating factor is present. In doing so, the judge may consider evidence from a variety of sources, including evidence brought forth during the criminal proceeding itself, pre-sentence reports, and other credible information.
Mitigating factors allow a judge to depart from the sentencing guidelines by reducing the severity of the sentence. Mitigating elements include, but are not necessarily limited, to such factors as:
- Offender was not a major participant in the criminal acts at-issue.
- Offender was mentally ill during the commission of the criminal acts at-issue, and could not properly reflect on his or her own conduct.
- Offender was responding to aggression by the victim.
- Offender was young.
- Offender was abusing substances at the time that the crime was committed, and thereafter completed a rehabilitative program to treat such substance abuse.
Aggravating factors, by comparison, allow a judge to depart from the sentencing guidelines by increasing the severity of the sentence. For example, if a judge finds that certain aggravating factors are present, they may impose a longer sentence than the Massachusetts sentencing guidelines recommend. Aggravating elements include, but are not necessarily limited, to such factors as:
- Offender is a habitual offender and has a significant prior criminal record.
- Offender specifically targeted the victim in the past.
- Offender violated the terms of their probation in committing the criminal acts at-issue.
- Offender managed, supervised, and/or executed a criminal plan where others were recruited or coerced into compliance.
- Offender took advantage of their position (i.e., as an employer, teacher, mentor, fiduciary, etc.) to provide cover or to otherwise enable their criminal acts.
- Offender committed criminal acts against a particularly vulnerable victim (i.e., an elderly or mentally ill victim).
- In committing criminal acts, the offender conduct themselves in a cruel, inhumane manner towards the victim.
A judge may depart from the sentencing guidelines upon finding just one mitigating or aggravating factor — the more factors that are present, however, the more that the judge may depart from the guidelines.
For example, suppose that you committed an offense where you stole money from an investment account that you managed. This aggravating factor (the fact that you were a fiduciary and in charge of the account) would allow the sentencing judge to depart slightly from the sentencing guidelines in imposing a more severe sentence. Now, if the victim were elderly and vulnerable, and if it was clear that this enabled your criminal acts, then that would present another aggravating factor that could be used to justify further departure from the sentencing guidelines.