About Guidelines & Commissions

Get to Know the Basics

What are Sentencing Guidelines?

Many jurisdictions have enacted sentencing guidelines as a means of moving away from indeterminate sentencing in which judges pronounce sentences as broad ranges and parole boards have broad discretion to determine when an offender is released from prison. Learn more about what sentencing guidelines are and which jurisdictions are included in the Sentencing Guidelines Resource Center.

The Importance of Case Law

In addition to the guidelines themselves, case law helps to inform our understanding of how the guidelines work in a particular jurisdiction.  “Case law” is law that is derived from the decisions issued by judges in the cases before them in court.  Case law adds to our understanding of the guidelines when the court interprets aspects of the guidelines that may be unclear or when the court makes a decision about how the guidelines should be applied to a case with a particular set of facts.

The Role of Sentencing Commissions

The role of Sentencing Commissions varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as do their goals, structure, and responsibilities. The majority of Sentencing Commissions are established to develop, implement, and monitor some form of Sentencing Guidelines; such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Virginia, Kansas, and North Carolina. However, there are Sentencing Commissions created to focus on the development and analysis of sentencing policy that have not enacted Sentencing Guidelines; including Massachusetts and Illinois.

What is Blakely and Why is it so Important?

Blakely v. Washington was a case decided by the Supreme Court in 2004. The case addressed the application of the sentencing guidelines in Washington, but the impact of the decision was to call into doubt the validity of all guidelines systems.