How felony sentences are decided

How felony sentences are decided

MARQUETTE — When a person is convicted of a felony, they are sentenced, whether it be to jail, prison time, or probation.

In Michigan, sentences for those who are convicted of a felony are decided based on statutory guidelines. These sentencing guidelines create a scoring system that allows parties in a case to reach a consistent conclusion on the appropriate sentence to be delivered.

“These guidelines are done post-conviction, pre-sentence, so after somebody has been found guilty of a felony, but before their sentencing before the judge, the Department of Corrections puts together a guideline score,” said Chris Gautz, Spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

“They take into account two things,” said Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese. “They take into account the prior record of the individual, and they take into account the offense and the offense variables.”

Prior record variables (PRV’s) are calculated along with offense variables (OV’s). Some of the variables hold more weight than others. Making threats to kill, holding a victim captive in a hidden place, and excessively violent behavior during commission of a crime are among the factors that can increase a sentence.

Where the PRV and OV scores meet on a graph, a recommended sentence is found.

“If it determines that a prison sentence is warranted, it will determine based on the score the number of months that the offender should serve at a minimum,” said Gautz.

“They give you a range of time on the minimum, and the judge sets that minimum based upon what that range is, and has to follow that sentencing guideline range unless the judge can find a substantial and compelling reason to either go above that minimum range or below it,” added Wiese.

Once it is delivered, the minimum sentence must be served thanks to Michigan’s Truth in Sentencing law.

“For crime victims, that’s real important, especially as you can imagine, if you had a young child who is the victim of a sexual assault, telling that child or their parents that this person’s going to be in prison for at least ten years, and if the child’s nine or ten, they know that they’re going to be 19 or 20 before that person can get out, and they cannot come back to hurt them again as a child,” added Wiese.

Sentencing guidelines are also taken into account in sentencing agreements that may be made as part of a plea agreement. From attorneys, to judges, to the victims and the convicted, these guidelines provide a uniform method for deciding and understanding a given sentence.

“The most important part about the guidelines, I think, is that it provides consistency, and it provides us with some assuredness as to what to expect,” Wiese said.

Click here to view the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines manual. More about Truth in Sentencing can be found here.