Around New England

District Attorneys Say Judges Ignoring Mandatory-Minimum Laws, Choosing Unelected State Commission’s Guidelines Instead

May 6, 2019

Several district attorneys in Massachusetts are calling on judges to stop using more lenient sentencing guidelines that contradict minimum sentences set by law.

One example:  Rape and abuse of a child aggravated by age difference between the defendant and the victim carries a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence in state law (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 265, Section 23A), but according to Essex County district attorney Jonathan Blodgett, the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission has recommended a sentence of 7 ½ years, and some judges are going by it. Blodgett calls it a “a clear violation of existing law,” according to the Brockton Enterprise.

The Sentencing Commission is an independent state agency in the judicial branch of state government charged with presenting sentencing proposals, but the guidelines the commission issues aren’t supposed to take effect until a majority of its members have voted for them and the Massachusetts Legislature has enacted them into law.

Yet judges are jumping the gun and treating the lenient guidelines as if they are law, says Michael Morrissey, the Norfolk County district attorney.

“They have not been submitted, but instead have been disseminated to trial judges and incorporated into judicial trainings. But the legislature hasn’t even seen them yet,” Morrissey said in a written statement, according to the Brockton Enterprise.

Morrissey, a Democrat, is a former state senator from Quincy. He is one of four district attorneys in Massachusetts quoted in the story as criticizing how the judicial branch is using the Sentencing Commission’s guidelines.

“This is not the time for the Massachusetts Judiciary to be ignoring the separation of powers and usurping the powers reserved to the Legislature, but that is what they are doing,” Morrissey said, according to the Brockton Enterprise. “As a former legislator, I can attest that this is not a grey area. It is a bright line.”

 

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