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Massachusetts Sentencing Commission Makes Changes to Sentencing Guidelines

gavel-2-1236453-300x200The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission recently approved a series of changes to the Massachusetts Sentencing Guidelines. The general formula (criminal history and offense level) for calculating a sentence range has remained the same, but the new guidelines have a number of major changes. The key changes are as follows:

  1. The Commission recommends that judges and lawyers consider the disparate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic impact of the criminal justice system and give careful attention to increasing and widespread concern that the system is unfair to people of color and the poor;
  2. The Commission cautions judges and lawyers on the use of the guidelines for juveniles and emerging adults, advising that the Guidelines are not suitable for application to juveniles, and suggesting that considerations of adolescent brain development may be important to the sentencing of young “adults;”
  3. The Commission recommends that judges and lawyers look to the Massachusetts Trial Court Sentencing Best Practices;
  4. The Commission added a bias check for judges. This is a list of the ten best practices to avoid racial, ethnic, gender identity, sexual orientation or age group bias, and is based on the Massachusetts Trial Court’s efforts to address these problems;
  5. The Commission added best practices to achieve strong victim communication, as codified in the victims’ rights statute;
  6. The Commission added a new Level 0 for certain offenses, for which the guidelines recommend imposition of no fine, fees, supervision, or incarceration of any kind. The Commission also decreased the offense seriousness level for some offenses, and increased the level for a few offenses;
  7. The Commission added a “decay provision” for adult offenses. Specifically, with some exceptions, after 8 years (from the arraignment date), the offense will no longer be calculated in the defendant’s criminal history. This will not apply for convictions at offense seriousness levels 6 or above where the current governing offense is at an offense level 6 or above;
  8. The Commission changed the decay provision for adjudication of delinquency to the following: no prior adjudication of delinquency for a misdemeanor shall be counted for criminal history placement on the sentencing grid. Prior adjudications of delinquency for a level 7, 8, or 9 shall be counted for the criminal history placement on the sentencing grid but shall be reduced by two levels;
  9. The Commission added the following treatment of youthful offender adjudication: a youthful offender adjudication shall be treated for the purposes of calculating a defendant’s criminal history score in the same manner as a delinquency adjudication where the juvenile was committed to the Department of Youth Services or received a combination sentence under G. L. c. 119, § 58(b) or (c), which allows for a youthful offender to be sentence to DYS until he or she is twenty one years old, and then be transferred to a house of correction or state prison. The Commission also added that a youthful offender adjudication shall be treated for the purposes of calculating a defendant’s criminal history score in the same manner as an adult conviction where the juvenile was sentenced to an adult sentence under G. L. c. 119, § 58(a);
  10. The Commission removed all references to Intermediate Supervision Levels I-IV (IS-I-IV) from the Guidelines;
  11. The Commission added a length of probation terms to the Guidelines;
  12. The Commission recommended the use of sentencing incentives;
  13. The Commission made a recommendation that probation supervision level is probably best set by use of a validated risk assessment instrument, with due caution for the potential racial, ethnic and socioeconomic bias inherent in such instruments, rather than based on where the individual falls on the Grid;
  14. The Commission recommended the use of Community Corrections Centers and Community Reentry programs where appropriate;
  15. The Commission updated and clarified the standard for ordering restitution as well as a discouragement on the use of fees and fines;
  16. The Commission added two mitigating factors: (a) the defendant’s criminal history category overstates the seriousness of the defendant’s prior record; and (b) the defendant’s residence in a poor or minority area with deep police penetration causes his or her criminal record to overstate the seriousness of the criminal record. It also added one aggravating factor: the defendant’s criminal history category understates the seriousness of the defendant’s prior record;
  17. The Commission added a level to the Level of Injury scale, recognizing that some permanent injuries warrant a particularly severe sentence;
  18. The Commission updated the monetary sentencing schemes for financial crimes;
  19. The Commission added language to recognize that the Legislature has not authorized departures below any minimum mandatories, but also recognizes that the Commission does not endorse the use of mandatory minimum sentences;
  20. The Commission updated that Guideline range for consecutive sentences;
  21. The Commission added a section on the procedure and importance of Recording a Sentence;
  22. The Commission explained that the Guidelines do not create any rights of appeal, as they are solely advisory.

The type of sentence that a person receives, and the length of such a sentence, can have a substantial impact on a person’s life – both in terms of the time that is spent serving the sentence, as well as the longer lasting results of institutionalization and challenges of re-entry. In the event that a defendant is sentenced – whether it is after trial or following a plea, advocating for a favorable sentence is one of a lawyer’s most important responsibilities. If you or a loved one is facing a sentence, you will need an attorney who has the experience and skills to obtain the best possible result for you. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is such an attorney – call him for a free consultation today.