The Purpose & Principles of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines
Criminal defense attorneys know and understand the sentencing guidelines. The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines were put into place for the purpose of establishing rational and consistent standards for sentencing. Specifically, with these Sentencing Guidelines, the goal is to (1) reduce the disparities that may take place if the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines were absent and (2) ensure that all state-mandated sanctions resulting from a particular felony conviction are categorically proportional to both the severity of a specific offense as well as the offenders’ criminal history.
At its core, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines seek to promote equity among those people who are convicted of felony offenses in the State of Minnesota. To support this equity, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines require (1) convicted felony offenders who meet similar sentencing criteria to be sentenced with similar sanctions, and (2) convicted felony offenders who are substantially different when evaluated with the same sentencing criteria to be sentenced with different sanctions.
There are four (4) principles embodying the meaning of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines:
- Sentencing should be neutral with respect to the race, gender, social, or economic status of convicted felons.
- While prison is the most severe sanction following a conviction of a felony, it is not the only significant sanction available to the sentencing judge. Development of rational and consistent sentencing policy requires that the severity of sanctions increase in direct proportion to increases in the severity of criminal offenses and the severity of criminal histories of convicted felons.
- Because the capacities of state and local correctional facilities are finite, use of incarcerative sanctions should be limited to those convicted of more serious offenses or those who have longer criminal histories. To ensure such usage of finite resources, sanctions used in sentencing convicted felons should be the least restrictive necessary to achieve the purposes of the sentence.
- While the sentencing guidelines are advisory to the sentencing judge, departures from the presumptive sentences established in the guidelines should be made only when substantial and compelling circumstances exist.
These four principals form the basis for the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines. These four principles must, if they are to have any positive and lasting effect, inform and direct judges as they sentence the citizens of Minnesota who are convicted of a felony. And it is these principles that form and support the foundation of equitable sentencing as it affects the people within the communities across our state. Without the principles, or without adherence to them, the government is in grave danger of allowing bias and prejudice to affect its treatment of citizen offenders – a danger that no doubt exists plenty even with the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines in place.