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Crime File: Sentencing

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This video cassette, number 3 in the Crime File series, portrays three panelists contrasting indeterminate sentencing in Massachusetts, determinate sentencing in Minnesota, and discussing the existence and causes of sentencing disparity, sentencing factors, and racial discrimination in sentencing.
Panelist Brian Forst of INSLAW discusses his research on the nature and causes of sentencing disparity. He examined different judges' sentencing for similar crimes and similar offenders. The study involved analyses of actual sentencing and laboratory studies of judges' sentencing decisions for the same case studies. Forst reports finding significant sentencing disparity. He indicates factors in sentencing disparity are judges' differing views of the severity of offenses and differing sentencing philosophies. Panelist Kay Knapp, Director of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, describes Minnesota's sentencing guideline matrix, whereby judges are given presumptive sentence ranges based on the severity of the offense and the offender's criminal history. Judicial discretion to vary from the guidelines when there are believed to be aggravating or mitigating factors is also explained. Panelist Judge Robert Hallisey of the Massachusetts Superior Court argues for his State's indeterminate sentencing policy, which gives judges complete discretion to decide what factors, as well as the weight given to each, will determine the sentencing decision in a given case. Judge Hallisey indicates that such unbridled discretion is necessary if sentencing is to be individualized for rehabilitation. Forst indicates that leaving judges free to make complex sentencing decisions without uniform guidance causes sentencing disparity. Hallisey responds that individualized sentencing implies disparity. In considering racial discrimination in sentencing, Forst comments that research does not indicate that race per se is a significant factor in sentencing decisions. The panel also discusses which factors are appropriate for consideration in the sentencing decision.

Date Published: January 1, 1984