The idea or concept of developing sentencing guidelines is a recent change in the State of Alabama. Extensive data was collected and many trial counties and their sentences given were gathered and looked at on the whole. The State Sentencing Commission found that there was a great disparity in Sentencing in the State, meaning Judges and District Attorneys were not consistent across the State in the sentence being given for the same crime committed. For example, if you were to get a DUI in Jefferson County, you might be put on unsupervised probation and have a few urine screens. However, the same DUI arrest in Shelby County would be sentenced to a two year long sentence with a supervised probationary period with regularly random urine screens and classes. This is just one example of how different the sentences were ranging.
The Sentencing Commission put together a worksheet that is filled out now on each criminal case and it is done on a numerical basis. These guidelines were enacted to get some unity to sentencing in the State of Alabama. They were largely modeled after the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Each individual is given certain points for things like the type of offense, if there was a firearm or deadly weapon used in the commission of the offense, does the accused have any prior criminal history, and even juvenile convictions are given points under these new guidelines. Juvenile cases are to be taken very seriously because they are not just cases that go away because if you reoffend as an adult they stay with you. We actually had a client that would have been offered on the sentencing guidelines form a noncustodial sentence but his point/s for juvenile convictions put him into a custodial sentencing range. However, we were able to show the Judge and District Attorney that his Juvenile offense was such a long time in the past and he had completely changed his life but for the one mishap we were representing him on and he was given probation.
These sentencing guidelines are just what they say they are: GUIDELINES. They are not mandatory and Judges in the State of Alabama still maintain the discretion to sentence a defendant according to the sentencing range for their particular crime. They just write on the guideline form why they decided to do an upward or downward departure to the range that was recommended by the guidelines. Some crimes do not even have guidelines because when the State of Alabama was enacting these guidelines, they did not have enough convictions or sentences statewide to form a statewide recommendation. The numerical range equates to a number of months which recommends a custodial or noncustodial sentence.
Our firm works with these forms everyday in an attempt to show the Judge the circumstances that require a downward departure so that probation or a split sentence can be given if our client has asked us to negotiate a plea agreement for him or her.