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September 14, 2005

Significant Massachusetts ruling on sex offender sentencing

Today in Commonwealth v. Pagan, No. SJC-09332, 2005 WL 2210333 (Mass. Sept. 14, 2005) (accessible here, perhaps), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts addressed various constitutional issues (and found some constitutional problems) with a relatively new state statute for sentencing sex offenders.  Here is the opinion's introduction:

The defendant appealed from the imposition of a term of community parole supervision for life (CPSL).... Specifically, he claims that (1) sentencing him as a repeat offender without indicting him as such is a violation of art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; (2) G.L. c. 275, § 18, is unconstitutionally vague; and (3) G.L. c. 275, § 18, is unconstitutional under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000).

For the reasons discussed below, we hold that a term of CPSL may be imposed lawfully on a repeat offender so long as the indictment or complaint alleges that he is a repeat offender, as required by art. 12.  We further hold that G.L. c. 275, § 18, is unconstitutionally vague as to first time sex offenders because it provides uncertain and conflicting standards that fail to inform defendants, prosecutors, and judges what is required before CPSL may be imposed.  In particular the statute identifies a standard of proof (clear and convincing evidence) but it contains contradictory language as to whether it is the Commonwealth or the defendant who must meet that standard, concurrently providing that the imposition of CPSL must be supported "by clear and convincing evidence" and that a determination not to impose CPSL must also be "supported by clear and convincing evidence." The statute also makes the imposition of CPSL dependent on a fact-finding process, but fails to identify what facts must be found, providing only that the judge must determine whether a defendant shall be committed to CPSL. To the extent that some of the language in the statute suggests that a judge has broad discretion to impose CPSL by applying traditional sentencing factors, it subjects that discretion to a fact-finding process that is inconsistent with that discretion. Moreover, insofar as § 18 is intended to make CPSL dependent on judicial fact finding (as opposed to the exercise of a judge's traditional sentencing discretion), it appears to violate the principle enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Blakely v. Washington, 124 S.Ct. 2531 (2004), and Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), cases that changed the constitutional requirements for enhanced penalty sentencing after CPSL was enacted.

September 14, 2005 at 02:13 PM | Permalink


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The link takes you to an expired Westlaw session.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Sep 14, 2005 2:26:13 PM

Thanks for the head's up, Mark, I did not originally realize that the SJC provides a westlaw link from its court website. I have fixed the link to go directly to the court's website so folks can try to get the case that way.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 14, 2005 5:29:34 PM

I am a third year law student at the University of Maryland School of Law and I am trying to locate post-Booker decisions where courts adjust downward or upward for sex offender sentences, and/or where courts explain their reasons for sentencing in sex offender cases. This research is for a paper I am working on in a sentencing reform seminar. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions.

Posted by: Veronica Jennings | Nov 29, 2005 5:20:47 PM

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