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Idaho Court of Appeals upholds sentence, rules defendant statement not a constitutional right

While criminal defendants in Idaho have a right to make a statement before being sentenced, it’s a procedural right, not a constitutional right, the Idaho Court of Appeals has ruled. Declining to overturn the sentencing of a North Idaho man on a statutory rape charge, the unanimous court held that the only time that the right of “allocution,” or making a statement, is a constitutional right guaranteed by due process is when the defendant requests to make a statement, and the district court “affirmatively denies” the request.

In the case of Scott Anthony Hansen, who was sentenced in 2011 to two to eight years in prison by 1st District Judge Steven Verby in Bonner County, the judge told Hansen at sentencing that he’d afford him an opportunity to make a statement. Hansen’s attorney said his client did have a statement, but first he had information for the court and three witnesses to call. The witnesses were called and arguments presented, and the defense asked for a maximum sentence of five years, while prosecutors asked for up to 10 years. The judge listened to the arguments and witness testimony, then directly questioned Hansen on several points, before imposing the sentence of up to eight years.

“Hansen … argues that the violation of his due process rights, by denying him allocution at sentencing, resulted in a greater punishment than the district court otherwise would have imposed,” Chief Judge Sergio Gutierrez wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion. But, he wrote, “From the record, we cannot conclude the district court’s failure to later invite a statement was an affirmative denial of the opportunity to allocute, and not simply an oversight.” He added, “A violation by the district court of a rule of procedure does not necessarily equate to a deprivation of a constitutional right.”

In the same ruling, the Court of Appeals rejected Hansen’s contention that he’d been given an excessive sentence. He was charged with one count of statutory rape and one of lewd conduct with a minor under the age of 16 for sexual relationships with two 13-year-old girls when he was 18; under a plea agreement, he pled guilty to the statutory rape charge and the other charge was dropped. The judge retained jurisdiction, which means Hansen had the opportunity to be released on probation after completing an intensive “rider” program at the North Idaho Correctional Institution at Cottonwood, but less than two months into the rider Hansen’s case manager at NICI recommended revocation of the rider due to numerous disciplinary issues. “Hansen grew more defiant and blatantly disregarded treatment requirements and recommendations,” the court found. So the judge relinquished jurisdiction, sending Hansen to prison for up to his full term; he remains there now.

“The district court noted that Hansen’s high risk for recidivism and unwillingness or inability to comply with the law supported an execution of the sentence originally imposed,” Gutierrez wrote. “The sentence was not excessive.” You can read the full ruling here.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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