OJ Simpson Convicted on Robbery, But Sentenced for Murder: Fair?

When a judge decides a criminal sentence, he or she usually has discretion to increase or decrease that sentence depending on a number of factors. One of those factors is whether the defendant has previously committed crimes.

That all seems well and good. But a judge can increase the sentence even when the defendant was acquitted for those crimes. He or she only need to find that a preponderance of evidence indicates that the defendant committed the previous crime.

Thus, in the example of the OJ Simpson robbery verdict, the judge could theoretically give OJ a harsher sentence because of the allegations that OJ committed murder. (The sentence would still have to be within the bounds of robbery sentences.)

What do people think of that? Does it strike you as a fair? Is it good policy to allow this?

My initial reaction is that it is unfair. But on reflection, I suppose it is no more unfair than any other increase in sentence because of a judge’s finding–whether it is based on the defendant’s character, remorse, etc. Perhaps that means sentencing should be done by juries?

Actually, he could get life in prison, and it won’t have anything to do with his previous trial. He was found guilty on two counts of 1st degree kidnapping, a crime that carries a 5 year-life sentence. So, staying completely within the bounds of the crimes he was convicted of, he could get two life sentences, on top of everything he’d get for the other 10 charges he was convicted of.

If anything, I wish judges had more power in determining sentences. Mandatory minimums are a black mark, to me. I think judges as a whole are reasonable, fair people. If the judge has good reason to believe a sentence should be one way and not another, who, literally, am I to judge? Laws are guides. They cannot cover every situation.

That said, I have never given any thought to juries deciding sentences, except of course in whether the death penalty should be exercised. Should it be a different jury, in your mind, or the same that convicted? What do you suppose this would achieve better? Would it do anything worse?

According to law professor Eugene Volokh, this may be constitutionally OK.

Briefly, Volokh says that, in sentencing, the judge may take evidence of the defendant’s character into account. The civil judgment against Simpson for the deaths of Brown and Goldman may be considered evidence as to character, or lack of same.

This analysis is based on Federal constitutional law, and Volokh notes that there could be state constitutional issues.

Is it the case that under Nevada law the judge can impose the maximum sentence regardless of mitigating factors? I doubt it. Usually judges must point to some reason for imposing the maximum. The question in this case is whether pointing to past alleged crimes ought to be a valid reason. (And even if Nev. law allows that, the hypothetical question remains.)

I agree with this, in general. I just find this particular factor to be problematic.

I’m not sure the results would be better, but it would be more fair. I expect the results might actually be less wise, but more legitimate.

I had no idea that was the case. Do you have a cite for that? I’d love to read more about that.

Did the judge actually refer to his previous ‘non conviction’ in the courtroom and offer an opinion on its validity?

This is a theoretical possibility. It hasn’t happened yet. But this sort of thing happens every day in federal court. For example:

A defendant is charged with two felonies: distribution of a controlled substance and assault. The defendant is acquitted by a jury on the assault charge, but found guilty for the drugs. The judge then uses the assault charge as justification for imposing the maximum sentence.

This is almost certainly constitutional. But is it fair and wise?

What’s the logic for that rule if he’s not convicted? Just that if he’s the type to be charged for assault (or murder or whatever) than surely he’s the type who requires greater punishment?

The logic is that sentencing is about balancing a lot of factors, and one such factor is the judge’s belief that the defendant is actually guilty of other crimes.

The judge has to find, on a preponderance of the evidence (meaning something like “more likely than not”), that the defendant actually committed the assault. So, the jury may have acquitted because they had reasonable doubt, but the judge can have reasonable doubt and still determine that the evidence points strongly toward the defendant’s guilt.

It just strikes me as odd that we require such a high burden of proof to put the guy in prison in the first place, and a much lower standard to keep him there longer.

Remember Al Capone?

My memory of the 1930’s is a little fuzzy. Was Capone’s sentence on tax crimes increased because of his alleged involvement in other crimes?

My understanding is that the judge had discretion to set the maximum sentence based on these charges alone. Good for her.

This creature walked free of double murder 13 years ago to the day. To see his arrogant face fall with the shock of a guilty verdict gave me a sense of satisfaction that I am half ashamed of.

I sometimes think of his children and what their lives must be like. This will be hard for them and those who love them.

On TV they said his minimum sentence is 23 years . Pretty much life in prison for a guy around 60 years old.

This is what I was going to come in here and say. If something comes up in a trial for which a person has been found guilty that goes to character or disposition to offend, I might be able to understand a judge being allowed constitionally to factor it in when it comes to sentencing.

What I don’t understand is his sole judgment being given any weight regarding facts/evidence/conjecture that are outside the scope of the sentencing in regards to the concluded trial at hand.

Why should a magistrate’s opinion hold any sway whatsoever over the truthfulness and validity of that outside information anyway? It’s one thing to submit – either voluntarily or due to procedure – your fate to the sole discretion, opinion and disposition of a judge in a proceeding that is current. It’s entirely another to have that judge, at the conclusion of that proceeding, arbitrarily bring in other factors not related to that proceeding.

If it’s true that Simpson’s past civil judgment can be brought to bear in deciding sentencing for his current conviction, a proceeding that had a lesser standard of evidence for a finding against Simpson by the way, and can weigh at all on an outcome that is the result of a much higher one, I do think that is unfair and unwise (my belief in O.J.'s prior guilt notwithstanding). I also believe the same about your drug/assault example above too.

And this from someone whose mother was murdered by my father.

And it’s worth underlining that OJ’s case is the most legitimate way this can happen. At least with OJ the judge would be relying upon a determination made by a jury. But there need not have been a civil judgment in order for the judge to do this generally.

Actually, that’s a benefit. Some factors relating to a defendant’s character are not admissible because they would unfairly prejudice the jury in determining a matter of some particular fact (namely, why the defendant is on trial). These factors may certainly be relevant in determining a sentence, since part of the justification for punishment is the protection of society.

He was found guilty of all 12 counts ,but I don’t get the kidnap part. He did not take them anywhere that I know of. I tried to find an explanation , but failed. He will appeal . They took him straight to jail though.

If I understand it correctly, kidnapping can also apply if they did not believe they could leave that room.

I believe there is a tape of him saying to the armed gunmen, “Don’t let them out of the room.” My guess is that being held captive prisoner in a room, at gunpoint, is a good definition of kidnapping. I don’t know if there are limitations “they were only held hostage against their will at gunpoint for a few hours” to kidnapping, but that is what I understood by listening to the news in the background.

In our great state of Nevada, kidnapping is defined thus:


(bolding mine)

Orenthal kidnapped those 2 men. He detained them, at gunpoint, for the purpose of gaining possession of items in their control.