Excessive Sentencing Project - Maine

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Maine.

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  • Maine has abolished the death penalty, and no longer allows discretionary parole.
  • Maine allows for discretionary LWOP and JLWOP. See 17-A M.R.S. § 1251.
  • Maine has no minimum age for transfer of a juvenile to adult court.

State Constitution

Me. Const. Art. I, § 9 (2011)

§ 9.  Sanguinary laws, excessive bail, cruel or unusual punishments prohibited. Sanguinary laws shall not be passed; all penalties and punishments shall be proportioned to the offense; excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel nor unusual punishments inflicted.

NOTE: While often discussed in conjunction with the Eighth Amendment,  Article I, Section 9 contains a separate proportionality clause. Maine Courts have not foreclosed the possibility that Article I, Section 9 may be broader than the Eighth Amendment.

Sentencing Statutes

  • Sentencing Guidelines System – Maine does not have a guidelines system.
  • Habitual Offender Statute – Maine does not have a specific statute which addresses recidivist sentencing.

Case Law


The illegality of a sentence may be raised on direct appeal as a matter of right. State v. Ward, 2011 ME 74, P14 (Me. 2011).

All acts of the Legislature are presumed constitutional. State v. Gilman, 2010 ME 35, P13 (Me. 2010). The challenging party bears the burden of proving unconstitutionality by “strong and convincing reasons.” Id.

Upon plea of guilty, a defendant does not have a right to review of the conviction by direct appeal unless he challenges “the sufficiency of the indictment, the jurisdiction of the court to try him, or the excessive or cruel and unusual nature of the punishment.” State v. Vane, 322 A.2d 58 (Me. 1974)

State Constitution & Proportionality 

Maine looks primarily to the language of the Maine Constitution to interpret its meaning. State v. Gilman, 2010 ME 35, P16-P17 (Me. 2010). If the language is unambiguous, the plain meaning of the provision should stand. Looking to the plain language of Article I, Section 9, the provision requires that “punishments shall be proportioned to the offense,” and does not require reference to the individual characteristics of the offender. Id.; State v. Ward, 2011 ME 74, P15 (Me. 2011).

Unlike the Eighth Amendment, the Article I, Section 9 of the Maine Constitution contains a proportionality clause separate from the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Me. Const. art. I, § 9, cls. 2, 5. Nevertheless, Maine recognizes that these concepts are related. State v. Gilman, 2010 ME 35, ¶ 14 n.6; State v. Ward, 2011 ME 74, P15 (Me. 2011).

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Maine has established a two-part test to determine whether a sentence violates Article I, Section 9:  First, the court should ask whether the sentence imposed is greatly disproportionate to the offense. Second, the court should ask whether the sentence offends prevailing notions of decency, shocking the conscious of the public or our collective or respective sense of fairness. If the sentence satisfies either part of the test, the sentence is unconstitutional. State v. Ward, 2011 ME 74, P15-P18 (Me. 2011); See State v. Frye, 390 A.2d 520, 521 (Me. 1978) (a “sentence is not cruel and unusual punishment unless the sentence is greatly disproportionate to the offense or the punishment offends prevailing notions of decency.").

Only the most extreme punishment established by the Legislature may be found unconstitutionally disproportionate. State v. Ward, 2011 ME 74, P15-P18 (Me. 2011); State v. Gilman, 2010 ME 35, P22-P23 (Me. 2010).

A mandatory sentence may not be unconstitutionally disproportionate under Article I, Section 9 of the Maine Constitution. State v. Gilman, 2010 ME 35, P14 (Me. 2010).

When a felony statute does not specify a mandatory sentence, the sentencing court must first consider the nature and the seriousness of the crime, and determine a basic sentence. Then, the court must consider any aggravating or mitigating factors to determine a maximum sentence for the offender. Finally, the court must determine if any of the maximum sentence should be suspended before arriving at a final sentence. State v. Gilman, 2010 ME 35, P20 (Me. 2010).

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Consecutive sentencing does not increase the penalties for the individual crimes, and do not become a single sentence by virtue of their consecutive nature. State v. Ward, 2011 ME 74, P22 (Me. 2011) (citing State v. Keene, 2007 ME 84, ¶¶ 25-26 (Me. 2007)). Therefore, in a proportionality challenge to consecutive sentences, the offender is limited to challenging each individual sentence separately. Id.

While the following cases mention the cruel and unusual punishment provisions of both the federal and Maine Constitutions, the courts do not provide any separate, significant analysis of Article I, Section 9 of the Maine Constitution:

  • State v. Mudie, 508 A.2d 119, 121 (Me. 1986) – Court declined to address constitutional issues because they were raised for the first time on appeal.
  • State v. Alexander, 257 A.2d 778, 783 (Me. 1969) –
  • Duncan v. Ulmer, 159 Me. 266, 285 (Me. 1963) –
Citations To Graham 

State v. Ward, 2011 ME 74, P16-P19 (Me. 2011) – Court uses Graham to discuss narrow proportionality principle of the Eighth Amendment.