Sentencing Guidelines in Minnesota, 1978-2003
125 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2004
This article examines the origins, purposes, evolution, and impact of Minnesota's pioneering sentencing guidelines reform. The Guidelines, related sentencing laws, and charging and sentencing practices have evolved considerably since 1980, and so have Minnesota's reform goals. Most of these goals have been achieved: sentences are more uniform and proportionate; policy formulation is more systematic and informed by data; sentencing has been coordinated with available correctional resources, avoiding prison overcrowding and ensuring that space is available to hold the most serious offenders; "truth in sentencing" has been achieved; custodial sanctions have been used sparingly; and the Guidelines remain fairly simple to understand and apply. The Guidelines have been least successful when they have attempted to change firmly-established practices and values. In particular, the Guidelines Commission's emphasis on Just Deserts was undercut by subsequent appellate caselaw, legislation, and sentencing practices (although the system created by the enabling statute and the Commission was always a hybrid, allowing utilitarian purposes to play a very important role). Minnesota has achieved a workable and sustainable balance not only between sentencing purposes but in other important areas - in the tradeoff between uniformity and flexibility, and in the powers of the Commission, the Legislature, appellate courts, and practitioners to control sentencing policy and case outcomes.
Keywords: sentencing, guidelines, punishment
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation