The Full Range of Punishment

Many Houstonians have been closely following the murder trial of Alexander Olivieri, a Katy area teen who was convicted yesterday of murdering 17 year old Bridgett Frisbie. The case has drawn lots of attention, including The First 48, a cable television show which profiles homicide detectives and the cases they handle. In Texas, murder is punishable by not less than five, nor more than ninety-nine years in prison. Until a few years ago, a convicted murderer could even get probation.

Texas follows what is called an “indeterminate” sentencing system. The statutes set out a wide range of punishment that a jury can hand out to a convicted felon, and it can often make it difficult for some people to be jurors. This is because in order to sit in judgment of a convicted felon, a juror has to be able to consider the full range of punishment. For instance, in order to assess punishment in a murder trial, a juror must be able to conceive of a situation in which they could consider 5 years as a punishment. Many people balk at this, and tell the judge and the lawyers during jury selection that there is no way they could imagine a situation in which 5 years would be an appropriate punishment for murder.

Proponents of indeterminate sentencing argue that it affords judges and juries the ability to better craft a sentence that suites the crime. However, the system is not without its critics. Opponents argue that it has the potential to let jurors’ biases and prejudices cause them to give harsher sentences to some defendants, and lighter sentences to another. In particular, they argue that system can lead to discrepancies in sentencing based on race. The same jury might give a different sentence to a White person than to an African-American, even though the two defendants committed the exact same crime under the exact same circumstances. These criticisms are what ultimately led to the development of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines create very narrow ranges of punishment for certain crimes, and vary little.

However you determine a sentence, cases where one young person murders another  are heart-breaking all around. One has her life completely snuffed out, and the other will spend the rest of his life inside a prison cell away from his family and loved ones.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a serious crime, call the Law Office of The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp for a free consultation. We fight hard for our clients, and always try to achieve the best result possible.