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Federal and State Sentencing Essay

In 1998 the District of Columbia Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission was charged with developing a comprehensive structured sentencing system for the District. The Commission concluded that the District could benefit from a comprehensive structured sentencing system. Next, the Commission embarks the difficult task of creating workable sentencing guidelines for felonies. As Washington, DC follows the lead of other jurisdictions as well as an earlier effort in the District, the Commission developed two grids: one for drug cases and one for all other cases in the direction of the dominant factors in sentencing: the offense of conviction and the criminal history of the offender.

The Commission also established standards for departing from the recommended prison ranges in extraordinary cases, rules for imposing concurrent or consecutive sentences, along with adjustments and exceptions to sentencing. Together, the grids, standards, rules, adjustments and exceptions form the Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines for the District of Columbia. (ACS, 2012-pg.9) Sentencing for a felony conviction is usually heard by the judge/court in a separate hearing which is held several days or weeks after the verdict. There is so many types of offenders with varied backgrounds and criminal histories that the act of sentencing them is one of the most stressful and complex decisions made by judges. (Champion, D., Hartley, R. & Rabe, Gary. 2008, 2002).

At the felony sentencing hearing, the prosecution makes a recommendation of punishment, and the defendant usually argues for leniency. The Supreme Court’s decisions that struck down state and federal criminal sentencing guidelines have caused a cascade of prediction of disaster. Shephard shows in his study how sentencing guidelines have actually increased crime and not decreased crime. It has also been shown that in a landmark Blakely and Booker decisions, the Supreme Court had found that Washington State and federal sentencing system violated the Sixth Amendment and has identified nine other states whose regimes may also be unconstitutional (ACS, 2012-pg.9). Some guidelines were deemed invalid because they allowed the judge to determine factual issues during the sentencing that should have been decided by a jury.


ACS, (2012). Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines Manual. Retrieved, Feb. 22, 2015, from DC Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission (Formerly Office of Advisory Commission on Sentencing): http://acs.dc.gov/acs/frames.asp?doc=/acs/lib/acs/pdf/2012_Voluntary_Sentencing_Guidelines_Manual.pdf Champion, D., Hartley, R. & Rabe, Gary, (2008, 2002). Sentencing and Appeals: Chapter Ten p.405, Criminal Courts: Structure, Process, and Issues -Second Edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458

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