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Mass. High Court Says Judges Can Change Plea Deals

Massachusetts' highest court has ruled that a judge has the authority to shorten sentences in plea deals if the judge thinks the punishment is too harsh.

The Supreme Judicial Court came to the conclusion in two decisions released Thursday in which prosecutors had challenged lighter sentences than had been agreed upon.

The court concluded in one case that there is no court rule that denies a judge the authority to reduce a sentence if the judge determines the sentence is "unjustly severe."

The court also ruled that prosecutors cannot back out of deals if the judge amends the sentence.

The SJC split 6-1 in both decisions, with Justice Francis X. Spina dissenting in both cases. He said the decisions encroach on the principle of separation of powers.

This program aired on January 12, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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