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Selected State Sentencing Laws

Sentencing guidelines have been at the center of much debate. Some feel that strict guidelines ensure justice by eliminating bias, so that defendants are punished the same regardless of their race or social status. On the other hand, critics contend that sentencing guidelines prevent judges from tailoring punishment to appropriately fit the crime.

As a result, states have very different approaches to sentencing oversight. What follows is an overview of sentencing approaches:

ALABAMA. The Alabama Legislature formed the Alabama Sentencing Commission to study and make recommendations regarding the state's sentencing practices.

ALASKA. Alaska has judicially-created "benchmark" guidelines for felonies, with moderate appellate review. Parole has been abolished for most (two-thirds) felonies. There is no active sentencing commission for the state. The state legislature modified its sentencing scheme following the Supreme Court's decision in Blakely.

ARIZONA. Following the Supreme Court's decision in Blakely, state courts in Arizona have issued several rulings regarding the constitutionality of sentencing provisions under state law.

ARKANSAS. State courts employ voluntary guidelines for felonies. There is no appellate review. Arkansas has retained its parole system. There are guidelines which incorporate intermediate sanctions, with preliminary discussions for guidelines in juvenile cases. State sentencing commission was established in 1994.

DELAWARE. Delaware utilizes voluntary guidelines for felonies and misdemeanors. Parole has been abolished in the state since 1990. There is moderate appellate review of sentencing decisions. The state's sentencing guidelines incorporate intermediate sanctions.

DISTRICT of COLUMBIA. The district in 2004 created the District of Columbia Sentencing Commission, which reports directly to the city council.

FLORIDA. In Florida, guidelines were repealed in 1997 and replaced with statutory presumptions for minimum sentences for felonies. The state sentencing commission was abolished in 1998 after the adoption of the new statutory presumptive sentences. There is moderate appellate review of sentencing determinations. Parole has been abolished in the system.

IOWA. Iowa has established a legislative commission to study sentencing reform.

KANSAS. Kansas uses presumptive guidelines for felonies, with moderate appellate review. Parole has been abolished in the state. There are no guidelines for intermediate sanctions.

MARLYAND. Maryland's legislature created the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy in 1998. There are voluntary guidelines for felonies, with no appellate review. Parole has been retained.

MASSACHUSETTS. In Massachusetts, there are presumptive guidelines for felonies and misdemeanors. A proposal is pending in the legislature for appellate review of sentencing determinations. Parole has been retained.

MICHIGAN. Michigan has been a member of the National Association of Sentencing Commissions since 1999. The state employs presumptive guidelines for felonies, with appellate review as authorized by statute. The state also maintains a restricted parole system. Shortly after the Supreme Court's decision in Blakley, the Michigan Supreme Court noted that the decision did not affect Michigan sentencing scheme.

MINNESOTA. The state has presumptive guidelines for felonies, with moderate appellate review. Parole has been abolished in the state. There are no guidelines for intermediate sanctions. In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a statute ensuring that the state's sentencing guidelines passed constitutional muster.

MISSOURI. Missouri uses voluntary guidelines for felonies, with no appellate review. Parole has been retained in the state.

NORTH CAROLINA. In North Carolina, there are presumptive guidelines for felonies and misdemeanors, with minimum appellate review. Since 1999, the state has incorporated a special dispositional grid for juvenile cases. Parole has been abolished in the state. In 2005, the North Carolina Legislature passed a statute ensuring that the state's sentencing laws conformed with Blakely.

OHIO. Ohio uses presumptive narrative guidelines for felonies. There is limited appellate review. Parole has been abolished and replaced with a judicial release mechanism. The state legislature is also considering structured sentencing for juvenile offenders.

OKLAHOMA. In Oklahoma, presumptive guidelines are in place for felonies. The state has retained a limited parole system. Legislative proposals are pending for appellate review of sentencing determinations.

OREGON. Oregon has presumptive guidelines for felonies, with moderate appellate review. Parole has been abolished. In 2005, the Oregon Legislature approved a statute ensuring that the state sentencing scheme conformed with Blakely.

PENNSYLVANIA. Presumptive guidelines are in place for felonies and misdemeanors, with minimum appellate review. Parole has been retained.

SOUTH CAROLINA. The state employs voluntary guidelines for felonies and misdemeanors with potential sentences of one year or more.

TENNESSEE. There are presumptive guidelines for felonies, with moderate appellate review. Parole has been retained. The sentencing commission was abolished in 1995. In 2005, the Tennessee Legislature approved a statute ensuring that the state sentencing scheme conformed with Blakely.

UTAH. The state uses voluntary guidelines for felonies and select misdemeanors (sex offenses). There is no appellate review. Parole has been retained in the state. The state also uses voluntary guidelines for its juvenile sentencing.

VIRGINIA. Virginia has voluntary guidelines for felonies, with no appellate review. Parole has been abolished. The state is studying juvenile sentencing guidelines.

WASHINGTON. The state employs presumptive guidelines for felonies, with moderate appellate review. Parole has been abolished in the state. Special guidelines for juvenile sentencing are in effect. In 2005, the Washington Legislature approved a statute ensuring that the state sentencing scheme conformed with Blakely.

WISCONSIN. In Wisconsin, the state employs voluntary guidelines for felonies. Legislative proposals are pending, which do not contemplate appellate review. The proposals also contemplate the abolishment of the state's parole system, as well as the creation of a new permanent sentencing commission.

Looking Ahead: Get a Free Case Review

A criminal defense attorney can advise you on the specific sentencing laws in your state and how they might apply to you. An attorney can also help to strengthen your case if you're facing criminal charges or negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor. Get in touch with an attorney near you today and receive a free review of your case.

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