Exceptional Sentencing: An Analysis Of the Various Factors That May Be Considered In Granting Sentences Above thee Standard Range

Eric Christianson, Exceptional Sentencing: An Analysis Of the Various Factors That May Be Considered In Granting Sentences Above thee Standard Range,26  Gonz. L. Rev. 145 (1990)

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 created presumptive sentencing ranges for most felonies based on the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s criminal history. The SRA has many purposes, one of which is to standardize sentences throughout the various courts.The court may impose any sentence within the presumptive range that it deems appropriate, or may impose a sentence outside the range if it finds substantial and compelling reasons justifying an exceptional sentence.The sentence must be determinate, defined as a specific time period of total confinement, partial confinement, community supervision, community service work, or a fine of a specified amount.  Also, since adoption of the SRA, judges now have more control over how sentences are served.

In determining whether an exceptional sentence should be imposed, a court should look to see if the defendant’s actions were beyond those normally associated with the crime for which the defendant is being sentenced. The trial court is not required to enter findings regarding mitigating circumstances where the aggravating factors entered support an exceptional sentence,and the court may impose an exceptional sentence on its own motion. The state is not required to notify a defendant prior to trial that it may seek a sentence beyond the presumptive range;nor is there a right to withdraw a guilty plea merely because of the trial court’s failure to follow the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation.Also, the court may impose an exceptional sentence on one defendant while sentencing co-defendants within the standard range.

In reviewing whether a sentence is excessive, the reviewing court looks at whether the trial court’s decision was “clearly unreasonable,” an action that no reasonable judge would have taken.” To reverse a sentence which is outside the standard range, the reviewing court must find: (a) either the reasons supplied by the sentencing judge are not supported by the record, or those reasons do not justify a sentence outside the standard range for that offense; or (b) the sentence imposed was clearly excessive or clearly too lenient. . .

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