Disproportionate Impact: An Impetus to Raise the Standard of Proof at Sentencing

October
2017
Anthony LoMonaco

It is well-known that in a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt. But during the subsequent sentencing phase, the standard of proof is much lower: a preponderance of the evidence. This relatively low standard can lead to a problem known as “disproportionate impact.” Disproportionate impact occurs when evidence of additional criminal activity is introduced during the sentencing phase and becomes more determinative of the defendant’s punishment than the actual crime of conviction. Such evidence can subject criminal defendants to significantly more punishment without the safeguards available at a criminal trial, and it may include uncharged and acquitted crimes. In response to this issue, some circuit courts fashioned an exception to the preponderance rule, raising the standard of proof to the clear and convincing standard to protect the due process rights of criminal defendants. However, use of this exception was curtailed in all circuits but the Ninth when the Supreme Court rendered the Sentencing Guidelines advisory in 2005. This Note analyzes the lopsided circuit split surrounding the disproportionate impact exception and challenges the notion that the exception is no longer necessary because the Guidelines have become advisory.

This article appears in the October 2017 Issue: Volume 92, Number 4
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