ELLSWORTH, Maine — For the second time, a convicted sex offender from Blue Hill has had his sentence vacated by the state supreme court.
In a 4-3 decision, the high court ruled on May 7 that Theodore S. Stanislaw’s sentence of 27 years behind bars is “disproportionate to other sentences for similar crimes.” The court vacated the sentence and remanded the case to Hancock County Superior Court for resentencing.
Stanislaw, a former music teacher, was accused of sexually molesting five girls between the ages of 10 and 14, all of whom he taught or knew through their parents, between 2004 and 2008. He has a prior conviction in New York state from 1982, when he was 24 years old, for sexually molesting a girl who was younger than 11. Stanislaw, now 54, served five years of probation for the New York offense.
In January 2010, he pleaded guilty in Hancock County Superior Court to nine criminal charges including unlawful sexual contact, assault and unlawful sexual touching.
At the time, Stanislaw was sentenced by Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy to serve 28 years behind bars with two more suspended, but that sentence subsequently was overturned by the Law Court on the grounds that Cuddy had erred in applying Maine’s mandated three-step sentencing analysis and by not articulating why Stanislaw was given a sentence near the maximum allowed.
Cuddy, instructed by the court to resentence Stanislaw, later ordered the former music teacher to serve 27 years behind bars instead. The new overall sentence, which included multiple consecutive prison terms, also included one additional year that was suspended and four years of probation.
Stanislaw appealed the sentence again, arguing that Cuddy again misapplied the sentencing analysis, that the judge should not have applied consecutive prison terms and that 27 total years in prison was excessive.
In its decision this week, the supreme court indicated that the unsuspended 27-year portion of Stanislaw’s sentence — the time he would have to spend behind bars — was closer to the length of incarceration that had been ordered for other defendants who were found guilty of killing or trying to kill other people. In terms of other sex crimes, the decision indicated, “Stanislaw’s unsuspended prison term is longer, sometimes significantly so, than those imposed in many gross sexual assault cases.”
The Law Court declined in its decision to assign the remanded case to a judge other than Cuddy, as Stanislaw had requested in his second appeal.
However, the four justices in the majority added that because Stanislaw’s sentence now has been vacated twice and because of the need to resolve the case for the sake of the young victims, they decided to suggest that a term of nine to 13 years behind bars — “one-third to one-half of the current unsuspended sentence” — might be more appropriate for Stanislaw.
This suggestion is part of the reason why the decision was split 4-3. Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, in the minority with justices Andrew Mead and Ellen Gorman, wrote in a dissenting opinion that she agreed the 27-year incarceration period was disproportionately long relative to the overall 28-year sentence and that the matter should be remanded back to Superior Court for resentencing.
However, it is not within the Law Court’s responsibilities to set sentences, she added. The suggested incarceration period between nine and 13 years, she wrote, could be interpreted as a mandate, which would exceed the supreme court’s authority.
“The authority to sentence a defendant is reserved entirely to the trial court,” Saufley wrote.
The chief justice added that at the original sentencing, in January 2010, Stanislaw asked to be kept out of jail entirely while the prosecution suggested that eight years behind bars might be appropriate. And, she said, there was no effort to account for the 22 years between his previous conviction in 1982 and the more recent offenses that began in 2004.
How Stanislaw conducted himself during that time likely would prove informative in deciding what degree of danger he poses to the public and whether he might be a good candidate for rehabilitation, which are key issues to consider in any sentencing analysis, Saufley wrote.
For this reason, she continued, a pre-sentencing investigation of Stanislaw’s history should be conducted before Cuddy revisits how much more time the former music teacher should spend behind bars.
Stanislaw’s defense attorney, Glen Porter of Bangor, said Wednesday that pre-sentence investigations used to be the norm in criminal cases but now are rare, with the possible exception of murder cases.
“They hardly ever do them anymore,” he said.
Porter said that he and his client accept the Law Court decision, even if the justices indicated that consecutive sentences were appropriate and that Cuddy should continue his role as presiding judge.
“It’s almost never heard of” to reassign a case to a different judge, Porter said. “We will work within those parameters.”
Mary Kellett, the prosecutor who has handled Stanislaw’s case, said separately Wednesday that the length of any sentence is the prerogative of the presiding judge, as long as it is within the statutory limits. Comparing one case to another, she said, can be difficult because extenuating factors vary greatly from one seemingly similar case to the next.
“[Cuddy] didn’t think it was safe to have [Stanislaw] out of prison,” Kellett said. “Every person is dealt with differently [and] there’s not a lot of guidance.”
According to Porter, a new sentencing date has yet to be set but if a pre-sentence investigation is ordered by Cuddy, that could take 60 to 90 days to complete. He added that, despite the court’s dissenting opinion, he is not sure if such an investigation will be conducted.
“I wonder if it will happen,” he said.