Criminal Sentencing in West Virginia: Different Strokes for Different Folks – State v. Clark

You commit the crime, you do the time. This is a fairly simple principle, but it often gets a little cloudy when put to the test in criminal courts. As the West Virginia Supreme Court recently explained, there are a number of factors that go into sentencing decisions. In some cases, those factors may warrant different sentences for two people involved in the same crime.

barbed-wire-1390182-m.jpgClark was charged in 2012 with various felony counts of burglary, grand larceny, conspiracy to commit burglary, transferring stolen property, and conspiracy to commit transferring stolen property. Although the Court didn’t go into detail about the nature of Clark’s offenses, the charges apparently stemmed from an incident in which he and two others entered into at least one home and robbed it. He eventually agreed to a plea deal in which he admitted to committing the crime and to plead guilty to two counts each of burglary and grand larceny.

After a hearing in which one of the crimes’ victims testified, a judge sentenced Clark to a sentence of 1-15 years each for the burglary counts and 1-10 years each for the larceny counts. The burglary and larceny sentences were to run consecutively, meaning that the larceny sentences would start once the burglary sentences were completed. On appeal, however, Clark argued that the judge gave him an unduly harsh sentence. The punishment was much more severe than that handed down to another man who participated in the crime, Joshua Smith.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court said the judge wasn’t required to hand down similar sentences to Clark and Smith. “Courts may consider many factors such as each codefendant’s respective involvement in the criminal transaction (including who was the prime mover), prior records, rehabilitative potential (including post-arrest conduct, age and maturity), and lack of remorse,” the Court explained.

Although Smith had a more extensive criminal record than Clark at the time of the arrest, the Court said there was sufficient support of the judge’s decision to take it easier on Smith. “It appears from the record that the circuit court considered the relevant factors and determined that petitioner and Joshua Smith were not as similarly situated as petitioner argues, including the fact that Joshua Smith was reportedly in school trying to further his education while petitioner was not,” the Court wrote.

The Court also noted that prosecutors alleged that Smith drove a vehicle used in the crime, but didn’t actually enter any of the victims’ homes. Finally, the Court observed that a third man involved in the crime – Heath Smith, who also entered the homes – received the same sentence as Clark.

As a result, the Court said the trial judge didn’t err in issuing the sentence.

Sentencing issues like this are often complicated legal matters. They’re also a critical part of the criminal justice process that largely determines how much time a person convicted of a crime spends behind bars. It’s important that a person facing these and other issues seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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