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Sentencing, Research Paper Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1200

Research Paper

Abstract

This paper examines the concepts of sentencing under the provisions of US criminal law. The analysis deals with four prime questions that cover (i) the definition of proportionality in the context of criminal sentencing (ii) Those three groups of people that are excluded from the death sentence (iii) The rights of the sixth amendment in the sentencing process (iv) the origins of felony murder and applicability in US criminal law today.

Q1 | ‘Proportionality’ in the context of criminal sentencing is a legal principle to impose both fairness and justice in the interpretation of the law. Essentially that the punishment or resulting sentencing should fit the crime. This interpretation is also carefully employed when the police are involved in armed conflict situations and the amount of force that they may impose. The concept also applies with regard to the Government and Public sector exerting excessive influence . The Supreme Court has recently identified several areas where Congress is considered to have very broad remedial powers that could pose a damaging threat to the States. The concepts of proportionality now underpin most of the Supreme Courts doctrines. (Frasais, R.S. 2008).

Q2 | Mental illness is often recognised as a mitigating factor in the determination of issuing the death sentence. This is however a complicated matter in terms of legal definition and interprtetation of what constitutes mental illness. In Ford Vs Wainwright the Supreme Court cited 6 reasons from common law why a person must be considered competent prior to being awarded the death sentence. It is considered ultimately that those mentally ill people who are convicted towards the death sentence should not be executed. The reasons for this being: (1) The imposition of applying the death penalty on mentally ill patients violates equal protection of the law (2) The imposition of the death penalty on mental people violates the due process of the law (3) Those mental people facing the death penalty will be so mentally impaired that they will not understand what is taking place or the reason for their punishment . ( Gardner, T.J. 2011)

International law, whilst tolerating the death penalty, considers this to be inappropriate for Juveniles and minors under the age of 18 ( when convicted of the crime). It was on March 1st 2005 that the Supreme Court, Roper vs. Simmons, abolished the death penalty for minors in most of those states where the death sentence was still being carried out. The Supreme Court extending this ruling to embrace the executing of the mentally ill. In 1999 a 16 year old offendor was execututed in Oklahoma. Sellers vs State. This created considerable controversy as the offendor had been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. The ruling of the US Supreme Court later stated that Oklahoma behaved unconstitutionally in executing a young person under the age of 18.  (Chambliss, W.J. 2011).

Q3 |  The Sixth Amendment may be described as that of pertaining to a criminal defendents rights at trial. It does not address sentencing guidelines. An important case was that of Apprendi vs New Jersey where it was held that a provision of sentencing may not be used to increase the stated manimum pemalty attributed to the crime in question. The defendant (Apprendi) had already been convicted of a crime where it was stated the manimum penalty the could be imposed was 10 years imprisonment. yet the presiding judge awarded him 12 years.. This later became important case law in that of Ring vs. Arizona  where an Arizona law advocated for the death penalty. Here the judge made his determination on the existing several agravating factors involved in the case. (Gardner, T.J. 2011).

Once the provisions of the Sixth Amendment kick in and the suspect has been arrested, he is entitled to a speedy trial. The Supreme Court provides a balancing provision between that of the reasons that are cited for the delay and the subsequent prejucice that this might inflict upon the defendant. Once the defendant has been charged they are arraigned before the court. Here the charges will be read out to the defendant and they have the right of a pleaa being guilty or not guilty. This is importantant under the Sixth Amendment because it gives the defendant the right to counsel. From this point the counsel should be available at all junctions of the critical proceedings that follow. Defendants can insist on the right to self counsel but this is rarely advocated as a wide step to follow.

The Sixth Amendment provides that the defendant is entitled to an open trial before the public and subject to the placement of an impartial jury. Where the defendant is tried in a court without a jury the punishment of imprisonment is excluded. In the case of a capital punishment trial the jury must consist of 12 Jurors and all must agree on the guily verdict before the death sentence can be passed.

Q4 |  The origins of the legal doctrines of ‘the felony murder’ can be derived from original English common law. In 2008 it was held that 46 states had a felony murder rule. It is considered that those considered to have committed a first degree felony murder may receive the death penalty. The defendant must have carried out the murder and not merely be a participant or someone who intended to kill. The eighth amendment comes into play here and if the defendant was proven to be a major participant in the homicide, or demonstrates complete indifference to human life, then the death penalty may be imposed.

43 US States still retain the Felony law. This means that if someone is committing a felony and a death occurs, regardless of intent or negligent behaviour, that person may be charged as a Felony murder. The rule is intended to make all criminals accountable for their actions for any deaths that may arise as a result of a felony action. Many criminals are unaware of the murder rule and that it is considered that this would not reduce the number of unintentional acts carried out. It has been estimated that on average 20% of all murders carried out fall under this rule. The rule is fairly generalised across the states but includes such items as drug crimes, kidnapping, robbery etc. It is considered that criminals pay little notice to this as they are unable to adequately control scenes. (Malani, A. 2005)

One of trhe difficulties of the Felony murder rule is that of a lack of a clear definition across those states that still apply this ruling. Statistics indicare that it does not have a significan reduction in crime, yet it is widely upheld that it is adapted to be a means of detterance.

References

Chambliss, W. J. (2011). Juvenile Crime and Justice. New York: Sage Publishing .

Frasais, E. S. (2008). Proportionality Principles in American Law : Controlling Excessive Government Actions: Controlling Excessive Government Actions. In E. S. Frasais, Proportionality Principles in American Law : Controlling Excessive Government Actions: Controlling Excessive Government Actions (pp. 5-6). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Malani, A. (2005). Does the felony murder rule deter? evidence from FBI crime data. Richmond VA: Uniiversity of Virginia law school.

Thomas J. Gardner, T. M. (2011). Criminal Law – 11th Edition. New York : WAdsworth Publishing Company.

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