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The Continued Vitality of Structured Sentencing Following Blakely: The Effectiveness of Voluntary Guidelines


John F. Pfaff


Fordham University School of Law


Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 102

Abstract:     
This Article explores the extent to which voluntary, non-binding criminal sentencing guidelines influence the sentencing behavior of state trial judges. In particular, it focuses on the ability of such guidelines to encourage judges to sentence consistently and to avoid improperly taking into account a defendant's race or sex. It also compares such guidelines to more-binding presumptive guidelines, which were recently found constitutionally impermissible in Blakely v. Washington.

In general, the results indicate that voluntary guidelines are able to accomplish much, though not all, that presumptive guidelines were able to, especially with respect to sentence variation. For example, voluntary guidelines appear to reduce a measure of variation in sentence length by as much as 28% for violent crimes and 17% for property crimes. By comparison, the analogous results for presumptive guidelines are a 48% drop for violent crimes and a 45% drop for property crimes. For the use of impermissible factors, the results are more ambiguous. Presumptive guidelines appear in general to be slightly more effective than voluntary, but not consistently, and voluntary guidelines still appear to reduce the role of race and sex at sentencing; due to limitations in the data used for this project, however, it is difficult to draw clear inferences about the welfare implications of the changes with regards to the use of impermissible factors.

Furthermore, voluntary guidelines appear to avoid some of the problems associated with other alternatives, such as sentencing juries and the increased use of mandatory minimums. In short, voluntary guidelines appear to be a viable, albeit somewhat less effective, alternative to presumptive guidelines in the wake of Blakely.

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Date posted: December 13, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Pfaff, John F., The Continued Vitality of Structured Sentencing Following Blakely: The Effectiveness of Voluntary Guidelines. Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 102. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=869977 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.869977

Contact Information

John F. Pfaff (Contact Author)
Fordham University School of Law ( email )
140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
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