Massachusetts judges considering how to sentence people who have just been convicted in their courts can continue to ask victims what sort of punishment they think is appropriate, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today.
A man who had been convicted of beating up his friend in Roslindale in a drunken rage over losing his job in 2016 and then sentenced to 18 months in jail, concurrent with an unrelated one-year sentence, had appealed his sentence because of US Supreme Court decisions that seemed to bar family members of victims from addressing judges and juries after convictions but before sentencing. The victim in the case, who suffered a concussion, bleeding in his brain and a broken nose after being punched repeatedly and then kicked in the head, had asked that Shawn McGonagle be sentenced to the maximum of 24 months - and that it not be concurrent with the other sentence.
In its ruling today, the state's highest court ruled the Supreme Court decisions don't apply to non-capital cases and that in Massachusetts it's up to judges to determine the length of a sentence. Judges, the court wrote, are better able to separate potentially prejudicial comments from straight legal issues in victim statements than jurors.
The court concluded:
We all stand equal before the bar of justice, and it is neither cruel nor unusual or irrational, nor is it violative of a defendant's due process guarantees, for a judge to listen with intensity to the perspective of a crime victim.