A judge’s sentencing in a robbery case in Kentucky has criminal justice specialists wondering about the constitutionality of the sentence. The case is being appealed before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The basics of the case are these: man was put on trial on multiple charges in connection with the armed robbery of a bank. He was convicted of the robbery but acquitted of the charges connected with using a gun. However, when the judge sentenced the man, he gave him a much longer sentence based on the gun charges of which he had been acquitted. So the question is, can someone receive a longer sentence because of circumstances the jury has acquitted that person of?
“Judge’s have always done that [enhancing sentences],” Dr. William Geary, assistant professor of sociology, said. “I think the real issue is the time.” Geary believes that judges should “decide what level of proof you need to double sentencing.”
For those who are not familiar with the sentencing process, it requires a lot of sufficient evidence. If a judge is trying to double a sentence based on evidence that he or she is providing, the jury has to believe in it. However, judge’s have the power to use any kind of proof or evidence to enhance sentences.
Is it fair that judges can double sentence based on what criminals are charged for rather than what they are convicted of?
Even if the jury has rejected or never heard of the evidence by the judge? Some may think that this act goes against the fifth and sixth amendments.
“A person who goes before a jury should only be sentenced for what the jury has convicted them of,” Dr. James Hedtke, history and political science professor, said. Hedtke feels that this isn’t fair to the accused and the jury trial, that this seems to violate the fifth and sixth amendments.
“A jury trial is a persons last defense on an arbitrary government,” Hedtke said. “Arbitrary that’s not a democracy, that cannot happen in a democracy.” Hedtke believes that when “judges render decisions and add more years,” its “as if they didn’t like the jurors’ decision.”
“Judges are doing what they’re entitled to do,” Geary said. “It looks really bad on the criminal justice system. It’s the kind of criminal justice system we’ve been trying to avoid, making the decisions when we’re supposed to rely on juries.”
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court believes this is very constitutional. Going against that idea, Geary believes that “sometimes law is not very constitutional. The Supreme Court has to step in and give guidance.”
In some cases, it depends on the lack of evidence a lawyer provides that allows the judge to go overboard with collecting more evidence. For some criminally accused, it may be hard to pay for a good lawyer to represent them, which leads to lawyers being assigned. Without good council representing a case, what hope does that give the accused? Dr. Laura Groves, LSW Chair, social work department assistant professor said that “getting good representation should be a right, not a privilege.”
For those who had recently registered to vote, there is a possibility that they can be chosen for jury duty. For anyone planning to vote in this upcoming election, they have now entered themselves to be selected in a part of the judicial system. So is it the judge or the jury who have the ultimate decision in declaring guilty or not guilty?
Groves believes, “If they [jurors’] feel their voices aren’t going to be heard, then where’s their motivation for taking [their job] seriously?”