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September 1, 2006

Terrific accounting of state-by-state sentencing structures

With thanks to Michael Heise and ELS Blog for this tip, I have discovered that this is an interesting sentencing part to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' massive account of information on state court systems in its recently-released report State Court Organization, 2004.  Starting at page 239 of a 300+ page document is a part called "The Sentencing Context," which has five amazing tables describing, state-by-state, facets of the sentencing process.

September 1, 2006 at 03:10 AM | Permalink

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There's a lot of interesting stuff here, but I wonder about the accuracy. For instance, Table 46 (Active Sentencing Commissions/Sentencing Guidelines Systems) contains numerous errors:

(1) the table lists several states as having commissions (Michigan) or guidelines (Louisiana) which I think no longer exist, or never did (Oklahoma's guidelines). [For a contact list and links to many of the existing commissions, see: http://www.ussc.gov/states/nascaddr.htm.]

(2) The columns describing existing guidelines as "mandatory" or "voluntary" also contain errors (Arkansas's are voluntary) or strange coding (I believe Utah's guidelines are voluntary; the table says they're mandatory but that courts "may deviate"). Some missing data really isn't (the DC pilot sentencing guidelines, effective as of June 2004, are and always have been voluntary).

(3) In the column on commission membership, one error that naturally caught my eye (there may be others) was in the description of Minnesota's Commission: since the 1980s there has only been one trial court judge (not 2) and three (not 2) public members.

Granted, it's very hard to find and update this kind of state-by-state data, and there are always issues of coding and classification. (Is a system that requires judges to state reasons for departure, but provides no appellate review, "mandatory" or "voluntary"?) I've tried to do this several times, and can only hope there weren't too many errors in what I reported. My most recent effort is in 105 Columbia L. Rev. 1190-1232 (2005), and includes a one-page summary chart at p. 1196. Since then one more state (Alabama) has adopted (voluntary) guidelines.]

Richard Frase
Professor of Law
University of Minnesota

Posted by: Richard Frase | Sep 1, 2006 3:17:03 PM

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