Perhaps in no other area of the law is a trial court's power greater than when it is given the task of criminal sentencing. Historically and traditionally, the trial court judge has been given the widest latitude of discretion in determining a proper sentence once a criminal defendant has been found guilty. Indeed, the task of sentencing has been deemed a matter of discretion rather than a question of law. As a result, trial judges historically have not articulated reasons for the sentences that they impose. However, with very few standards or criteria to measure the appropriateness of their decisions, trial judges have been left to rely on little more than their individual biases and private notions of justice. When one examines the number of possible factors to consider in setting punishment, the wide discretion of the trial court can become problematic. Such a system, vesting all sentencing discretion in the trial judge, has been criticized as leading to gross, unexplainable disparities in sentences. Although in reality only one trial judge sentences the offender (or offenders) in any given case, disparity occurs in the system when similar offenders committing similar offenses receive widely disparate sentences from different judges. Hence, critics argue that there is a need to further structure and govern the exercise of discretion by the sentencing judge through the creation of sentencing guidelines. Maine, like many other states, has chosen the judiciary as the body to structure the exercise of trial court discretion in sentencing matters. In 1965, the Legislature enacted a procedure of limited appellate review of sentences. Under that system, a three-judge panel was restricted to correcting only the most extreme sentences on review, and thus it largely failed to develop any useful precedent on the law of sentencing. The purpose of this Comment is to examine the role of the appellate court in the sentencing process in Maine, and specifically to evaluate the effectiveness of Maine's appellate sentence review procedure in reducing disparity in sentences and in developing a coherent, rational body of law on sentencing policy.

First Page