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What Are the Sentencing Guidelines and How Do They Work?

Posted by Brandon Lauer | Apr 07, 2019 | 0 Comments

In Minnesota, for felony offenses, the punishment for a crime typically goes by a chart. The standard grid can be found here. The drug offense grid can be found here. The sex offense grid can be found here.

Let's focus on the standard grid and give a basic understanding of how things generally work (without getting into the more complicated sentencing issues).

Criminal History Score

On one side of the chart is criminal history score. Criminal history score is calculated based off of what your prior criminal history score is and whether you are "in custody" at the time of the offense (which includes such statuses as probation). The down and dirty of this is that those with greater criminal history are going to be sentenced more severely than those who are on their first offense.

Offense Severity

On the other side of the chart is the offense severity. Offense severity can either be found on the chart itself, or in the Guidelines manual. For example, let's use Criminal Vehicular Operation, Great Bodily Harm, which is a severity level of 5.

Calculating the Presumptive Sentence

Let's use our CVO severity level of 5. If this is someone's first offense, therefore a criminal history score of 0, the presumptive sentence lands in the shaded portion, with 18 months. The shaded portion means that you are presumed to end up on probation. The 18 means that 18 months of prison time will "hang over your head" while on probation. Now let's say this same person has a criminal history score of 6. The presumptive sentence lands in the un-shaded portion, with 48 months (41-57 range) presumed in prison. The un-shaded portion of the grid means that you are presumed to be sentenced to prison. The 48 is the presumed amount of time. The 41-57 is the acceptable "range" of what a Judge can sentence you to (as in, you can get between 41 to 57 months in prison).

Just Because You May Be Looking at a Presumptive Sentence Doesn't Mean That It Will Happen

At sentencing, a defense attorney can argue for a durational or dispositional departure. Without getting into the weeds, this is essentially where you ask the Judge to depart from the presumptive sentencing (ie. you're presumed to end up in prison, but the Judge puts you on probation instead).

Is that something you really want to try to do alone? The fact is, even if you are guilty of something, that doesn't mean you have to just accept the standard sentences. There's room to fight even after you're found guilty. 

But you need an attorney to do that. Call me at (651) 337-9876 or email me at [email protected] if you need a criminal defense attorney.

About the Author

Brandon Lauer

-Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Juris Doctor, Magna Cum Laude -University of Minnesota Duluth, B.A. Political Science, Cum Laude -During law school, I spent time as a Student Attorney at both the State Public Defenders and the Wright County Public Defenders Offices -I also law clerked under b...


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