We frequently are asked about Idaho’s unified sentencing scheme and how its "parts" work. That our clients are often confused is not surprising. A recent Idaho Appellate court decision takes a look at sentencing in Idaho, and notes that even the district judge in a second degree murder case can misunderstand the law.
In State of Idaho vs James Anderson the Court considered whether the punishment for second degree murder required a "fixed" period of ten years. The statute sets the punishment for that crime as "imprisonment not less than ten years" to life. The district court had denied a Rule 35 motion filed by the appellant to modify the sentence in the case because the judge reasoned the statute meant ten years to life. The appellate court ruled that the minimum sentence is indeed ten years – but that ten years need not be fixed. The judge simply got it wrong – he could have sentenced to less than ten years "fixed."
What is "fixed" time in a unified sentence? Let’s say a judge wants to impose a ten year sentence. Under Idaho’s sentencing scheme, the court may impose a period of that ten years during which the convicted person will not be eligible for parole. That time is known in Idaho as "fixed" time, and the remaining time is "indeterminate." In other words – it is not "determined" at the time of sentencing how much of the remaining time will be served. The person might be granted parole and avoid serving that "indeterminate" time. For example – a sentence of 3 years fixed and 7 years indeterminate means that a person would serve 3 years before being eligible for parole. The remaining 7 years would be served with the opportunity for the board of pardons and parole to consider whether to release the inmate on terms and conditions of parole. The "unified sentence" in that case would be for 10 years (3 fixed plus 7 indeterminate =10 year sentence).