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Commonwealth v. McGonagle

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

January 18, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SHAWN A. McGONAGLE.

          Heard: October 5, 2017.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the West Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department on April 3, 2015.

         The case was tried before Paul J. McManus, J. The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Max Bauer for the defendant.

          Cailin M. Campbell, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          LOWY, J.

         General Laws c. 258B, § 3 (p), permits "victims . . . to be heard through an oral and written victim impact statement at sentencing . . . about the effects of the crime on the victim and as to a recommended sentence."[1] We transferred this case here on our own motion to answer two questions: first, whether the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Bosse v. Oklahoma, 137 S.Ct. 1 (2016) (per curiam), precludes a sentencing judge from considering victim impact statements "as to a recommended sentence" under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; and second, whether the sentencing recommendation provision violates the defendant's constitutional guarantee of due process. We conclude that a sentencing judge's consideration of victim impact statements "as to a recommended sentence" is constitutional because the concerns underpinning the Supreme Court's treatment of victim impact statements before a jury during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial differ from those at issue here. We further conclude that a victim's right to recommend a sentence pursuant to G. L. c. 258B, § 3 (p), satisfies the requirements of due process. We therefore answer both questions in the negative and affirm.

         Background and prior proceedings.

         Following a trial in the District Court, a jury convicted the defendant, Shawn McGonagle, of assault and battery, G. L. c. 265, § 13A. At the defendant's sentencing hearing, the Commonwealth requested that the defendant be sentenced to two and one-half years in a house of correction, the maximum possible sentence under the statute, to be served from and after his release on an unrelated one-year sentence for violating an abuse prevention order. Immediately after the Commonwealth's recommendation, the victim gave an impact statement, during which he told the judge, "I would like . . . for [the defendant] to get the maximum [sentence], and not concurrent." The defendant then requested a sentence of nine months in a house of correction to be served concurrently with his unrelated sentence.

         The judge sentenced the defendant to eighteen months in a house of correction to be served concurrently with the sentence he was then serving. This was a lesser term of imprisonment than the maximum possible sentence or the sentences recommended by both the Commonwealth and the victim. The judge did not explicitly reference the victim's statement, but explained that in deciding the appropriate sentence, he placed great weight on the victim's injuries and the defendant's criminal record.

         Discussion.

         The defendant does not challenge G. L. c. 258B, § 3 (p), in its entirety, but instead only challenges the portion of the statute that permits victims to provide an impact statement "as to a recommended sentence." The defendant relies on Booth v. Maryland, 482 U.S. 496 (1987); Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991); and Bosse, 137 S.Ct. 1, to support his claim that a victim's recommendation as to a particular sentence violates the proscription against cruel and unusual punishments under the Eighth Amendment, and its "cruel or unusual punishments" counterpart under art. 26. The defendant further contends that allowing a victim to recommend a particular sentence violates due process.

         1. Eighth ...


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