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Sentencing: Guidelines

Narrative Guidelines

In two U.S. jurisdictions (Delaware and Ohio), the sentencing commissions have eschewed the grid apparatus and have elected to communicate their guidelines in narrative form—expressing punishments though verbal exposition rather than a numerical table. For example, in Delaware, the "presumptive" sentence for first-degree burglary by a first-time offender is written out in a "Truth in Sentencing Bench-book" as twenty-four to forty-eight months at "Level V." (In the Delaware guidelines, Level V is a prison sentence.) Longer presumptive prison terms are indicated for defendants with prior records. For instance, a first-degree burglar with "two or more prior violent felonies" receives a presumptive sentence of 60 to 120 months (or five to ten years) in the Delaware Benchbook (Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission, Truth in Sentencing Benchbook, March 1997, p. 23). Delaware's guidelines look more like a series of statutes or textual regulations than most other guidelines, and rely less on visual aids. To date, however, the distinction between narrative guidelines and those distilled into grid form has been largely stylistic. With small ingenuity, the current narrative guidelines in use in Delaware or Ohio could be summarized pictorially in a grid or matrix. Conversely, all "grid jurisdictions" supplement their guideline matrices with narrative provisions, which can be quite voluminous, addressing such topics as the purposes of punishment, the permissible grounds for departure for the guidelines, the treatment of multiple convictions, and the computation of criminal history scores. Overall, the design choice between grid and non-grid formats has mattered much less than substantive choices about sentence severity, guideline specificity, intermediate punishments, and other central policy issues.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawSentencing: Guidelines - Origins Of Sentencing Commissions And Guidelines, Design Features Of Guideline Structures, Guideline Grids, Guidelines For Intermediate Punishments