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Selected State Sentencing Laws

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

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. Read on to learn more about selected state sentencing laws.

State Sentencing Laws and Guidelines

In the table that follows, you'll find an overview of selected states' approaches to sentencing.

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 DC Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission, which became the DC Sentencing Commission in 2016, 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Florida In Florida, guidelines were repealed in 1997 and replaced with statutory presumptions for minimum sentences for felonies.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.

Maryland 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.

Talk to an Attorney to Learn More About State Sentencing Laws

Sentencing is determined at the state level, unless of course, you're charged with a federal crime, in which case it's based on federal laws. If you've been charged with a crime and you want to learn about the possible sentence, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.

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