Proportionate Sentencing in Maine and State v. Stanislaw


In State v. Stanislaw, 2013 ME 43 (Stanislaw II), Maine’s Law Court fleshed out the details of a “proportionality” requirement for sentences imposed in this State.   The requirement stems from Maine’s sentencing statutes and the proportionality clause, article I, section 9, of the Maine Constitution.  In reviewing the appropriateness of a sentence, the Law Court is instructed, by 15 M.R.S. §2155(2), to consider “[t]he manner in which the sentence is imposed.”  The Stanislaw II Court pointed out that this involves examining whether the sentencing court “permitted a manifest and unwarranted inequality among sentences of comparable offenders.”   According to article I, §9, of the Maine Constitution, “all penalties and punishments shall be proportioned to the offense.”  This protection under the Maine Constitution is greater than the protection provided by the U.S. Constitution’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause.   Guided by these statutory and constitutional provisions, the Stanislaw II Court fashioned a 2-step analysis that must be applied to determine sentence proportionality.

Theodore Stanislaw pled open to 3 counts of unlawful sexual contact, Class B, and 1 count of unlawful sexual contact, Class C (plus a number of misdemeanor counts), involving conduct that occurred between 2004 and 2008 with five victims between the ages of 10 and 14.   His underlying conduct involved exposing himself, kissing and touching his victims, and hugging the victims when he and the victims were either partly clothed or naked.  No penetration occurred.  Stanislaw had one prior NY felony conviction, in 1982, for fondling the vagina of an 11 year-old girl.  In Stanislaw’s original Maine sentence for the combined conduct, he was ordered to serve 28 years in prison, followed by 4 years of probation during which he was exposed to a 2-year suspended sentence.  In Stanislaw I, the Law Court reviewed that sentence, vacated it and remanded the case for re-sentencing based on a lack of thoroughness in the sentencing court’s articulation of its sentencing analysis.  On remand, after Stanislaw I, the sentencing court conducted a thorough statutory/Hewey sentencing analysis and ordered Stanislaw to serve 27 years in prison, followed by 4 years of probation during which Stanislaw was exposed to a 1 year suspended sentence.

Stanislaw again appealed his sentence.  In Stanislaw II, The Law Court did not fault the sentencing court’s Hewey analysis, but it did vacate the re-sentence, this time on grounds that the sentence was unconstitutionally disproportionate.   The first step in the Law Court’s proportionality analysis was to examine whether the overall sentence appeared “grossly disproportionate” to the offenses Stanislaw committed.  The Law Court described this process as comparing “the gravity of the offense [with] the severity of the sentence.”  The Court explained that if this comparison produces an “inference of gross disproportionality,” the Court is to next compare the defendant’s sentence to sentences received by other Maine offenders.  The Stanislaw II Court found gross disproportionality at the threshold level, pointing out that the overall sentence of 27 years of unsuspended incarceration exceeded sentences imposed for far more serious crimes, while it failed to serve legislatively established sentencing goals of rehabilitating offenders and minimizing correctional experiences that might serve to promote further criminality.

After finding an “inference” of gross disproportionality at the threshold level, the Court next compared Stanislaw’s sentence to the sentences of other offenders in 4 groups of cases:  (1) a group of cases that the State presented to the sentencing court, in which the longest unsuspended term was 8 years; (2) a group of violent cases involving the death or near death of victims, in which the longest unsuspended term was 30 years; (3) a group of cases involving gross sexual assault convictions, in which the longest unsuspended term was 20 years; and (4) a group of cases involving unlawful sexual contact, in which the longest unsuspended term was 6 years.  At this stage of analysis, the Court rejected the State’s argument that Stanislaw’s overall sentence should be compared to the overall sentences in these other cases without accounting for the fact that large portions of the sentences in the comparison cases were suspended. The Court pointed out the very real difference between suspended incarceration and actual, unsuspended incarceration and held that proportionality must be measured by comparing the unsuspended portions of sentences.  The Court concluded that Stanislaw’s sentence was grossly disproportionate to the sentences it used for comparison, and that the sentencing court erred when it failed to consider whether the overall unsuspended portion of Stanislaw’s sentence should have been subject to an additional period of suspension—imposed post-Hewey analysis– to ensure that it was proportional to the unsuspended sentences of other offenders.   The Law Court remanded the case a second time for resentencing, this time advising the sentencing court that an appropriate sentence would likely be 1/3 to 1/2 as long as the total unsuspended sentence previously imposed.

Stanislaw II is an important case in that it breaks new ground.   The Law Court has not previously vacated a sentence on proportionality grounds that was imposed entirely in conformity with a 17-A M.R.S. §1252-C/Hewey analysis and with the consecutive sentence provisions of 17-A M.R.S. §1256.  Stanislaw II creates a new and final step in the sentencing process, in which a sentencing court must view the overall sentence derived under a Hewey analysis and decide whether that sentence is proportional.  This final step actually involves two steps.  The court must first decide whether the severity of the sentence is proportional to the gravity of the offense.   If this comparison creates an inference of disproportionality, the sentencing court must compare the sentence to sentences received by other offenders, focusing on the unsuspended portions of those sentences, to determine whether the Hewey-derived sentence would be grossly disproportional.  If the sentence would be grossly disproportional, the court must suspend an additional portion to bring it into proportion with other offenses imposed on other Maine offenders.

And so is the story of proportionate sentencing in Maine and State v. Stanislaw.