structured sentencing | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Courts

Structured sentencing is a method of determining criminal sentences that takes into account the seriousness of the offense, the offender’s prior criminal record, and other factors.

Structured sentencing is a system used in many US states that aims to provide more consistent and fair criminal sentencing. Under structured sentencing, judges are required to use a set of guidelines to determine the appropriate sentence for a given offense. These guidelines take into account a range of factors, including the seriousness of the offense, the offender’s prior criminal record, and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

The purpose of structured sentencing is to ensure that similar offenses are punished in a consistent manner, and to reduce disparities in sentencing that may be influenced by factors such as race, gender, or socioeconomic status. By providing clear guidelines for judges to follow, structured sentencing aims to increase transparency and predictability in the criminal justice system.

Structured sentencing typically involves a grid or matrix that assigns point values to different types of offenses and offender characteristics. Judges use the grid to determine a “presumptive” sentence, which is based on the point value assigned to the offense and the offender’s criminal history. The judge may then consider any aggravating or mitigating factors that were not accounted for in the grid, and may deviate from the presumptive sentence if appropriate.

While structured sentencing has been praised for its potential to increase consistency and fairness in criminal sentencing, it is not without its critics. Some argue that structured sentencing may be too rigid and may not allow judges to take into account individual circumstances that may affect an offender’s culpability. Others argue that structured sentencing may not be effective in reducing racial or socioeconomic disparities in sentencing, as these disparities may be influenced by factors that are not accounted for in the guidelines.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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