The PA Sentencing Guidelines provide a state court with direction on how an offender is to be sentenced.
By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Criminal Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA
A judge of the court of common pleas of Pennsylvania does not randomly determine a sentence for an individual convicted of a specific crime. Rather, a judge uses "sentencing guidelines" that were developed by an 11 person commission established by the PA General Assembly, known a the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. The Commission sets for the parameters for a judge to use when determining how a defendant will be sentenced. The current Guidelines, 6th edition, apply to felony and misdemeanor offenses committed on or after June 3, 2005.
How do Guidelines work?
The Sentencing Guidelines are based upon the assessment of an 'Offense Gravity Score' (OGS) to all criminal offenses (may be in Crimes Code, Drug Act, Fish and Game Code or the PA Vehicle Code). An individual offense will have a score ranging from one (1) to fourteen (14); the higher the score the more severe the penalty. An individual will also have a 'Prior Record Score' (PRS) ranging from one (1) to five (5); again the higher the score the more severe the penalty. Mandatory sentences called for by a certain crime take precedence over the guideline range sentence. However, to the extent that the guidelines exceed the mandatory minimum, the judge may go higher than the mandatory sentence.
An individual's offense is scored from a list of pre-determined scores. Their prior record is looked at and will determine what their current OGS will be. A range of sentences is provided to the court, known as a "Basic Sentencing Matrix." The court will then determine whether a particular defendant should receive a standard range, a mitigated or an aggravated range sentence. The court should announce in open court what the proposed sentence established by the Guidelines are and what sentence they are going to impose. They should also state the reason for giving a defendant a sentence above or below the standard range.
It is very important that you and your attorney both go over your prior record, if any, as well as look at the current offenses for which you are charged. Any mistakes in your proper identity, such as in your social security number, PA driver's license number or date of birth, may skew the prior record score. Your attorney should double check the sentencing guidelines with you to make sure that the Commonwealth has computed your guidelines properly.
If you have questions about your offense and the proposed sentence that you are to receive, you should contact experienced counsel to assist you. You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.