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Assessing Consistency and Fairness in Sentencing: A Comparative Study in Three States

NCJ Number
Date Published
19 pages

This report presents the results of an examination conducted by the National Center for State Courts of sentencing patterns in three States with substantially different guidelines systems: Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia.


The main conclusions drawn from this inquiry into the application of sentencing guidelines in the three States of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia include: (1) guideline systems produce predictable sentencing decisions based upon their prescribed elements and mechanics; (2) predictability is somewhat higher in the context of Minnesota’s more compact set of elements and use of relatively narrow guideline ranges; (3) there is no evidence of a direct trade-off between predictability and proportionality on one hand and undesirable racial, gender, or age disparities on the other; (4) all guideline systems benefit from periodic assessment of current practice and the extent to which the guideline systems are achieving key goals of consistency and fairness; and (5) policymakers, judges, and all others concerned about sentencing will benefit from working together to ensure the establishment of sentencing commissions to regularly monitor sentencing patterns to solidify past and current gains as well as reorient future resources in the most effective manner. These drawn conclusions increase the understanding of how sentencing guidelines work to shape and control the discretion of trial court judges. Conducted by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), this study placed all of the existing guideline systems along a continuum from more voluntary to more mandatory. From this perspective, it is possible to assess the degree to which three important sentencing goals, predictability, proportionality, and elimination of discrimination, are realized in the context of sentencing systems at various points on the sentencing continuum.

Date Published: January 1, 2008