PORTLAND, Maine — The minimum sentences mandated under Tina’s Law, which aims to crack down on dangerous drivers by imposing stiff sentences, are constitutional, the state’s highest court unanimously ruled Tuesday.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling upheld the sentencing provisions of the law and vacated a sentence on a Vietnam War veteran who was convicted of continuing to drive after losing his license as a habitual offender.
Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy sentenced Gerald Gilman to 90 days in jail in December 2008, calling the two-year minimum in the law unconstitutionally harsh in Gilman’s case. The Supreme Court’s decision came a day after U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree announced they had recommended Murphy to replace U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby on the federal bench.
But supreme court justices agreed with prosecutors, who said Murphy’s sentence was illegal. Gilman must return to court and be resentenced.
Gilman was stopped for speeding in his hometown of New Sharon in April 2007. He later was convicted of operating after license revocation, with the charge being enhanced because he had three drunken-driving convictions in the previous 10 years.
Under Tina’s Law, which created the crime of aggravated operating after habitual offender revocation, Gilman faced a mandatory sentence of at least two years. The law, enacted in 2006, is named for Tina Turcotte, who died of injuries in a Maine Turnpike crash caused by a trucker with a lengthy record of offenses.
Gilman’s lawyer, Woody Hanstein, had successfully argued before Murphy that a two-year sentence was unconstitutional in Gilman’s case. Hanstein said Gilman had served his country, had given up drinking, had sought help for his post-traumatic stress disorder and was connecting with other veterans.
Murphy agreed, writing that a two-year sentence “would be greatly disproportionate to the offense, and also … that it would offend prevailing notions of decency.”
Supreme court justices wrote that when the Legislature establishes a mandatory minimum sentence for a crime, the sentencing court cannot use mitigating factors to justify a lesser sentence.
Hanstein said it was “courageous” for the judge to give Gilman a lighter sentence than what was mandated. It’s a travesty, he said, to send Gilman to prison for two years.
“It’s just absolutely a waste of human life and taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Prosecutors with the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office were not available for comment.