If you are accused of a crime, there is a chance that you will go to jail. Everyone wants to win their case and we’ve won more than our share of cases at trial or by dismissal. But there is sometimes the chance that you will have to go to jail. When you are considering a plea bargain or a trial strategy, you have to consider the possibility of jail time and how long you might have to go to jail or prison.
judges have broad powers to decide how long you will go to jail if you are
convicted. For example, if you are charged with a Class A misdemeanor, you can
be sentenced to up to one year in jail. The judge does not usually have to send
you to jail, but can sentence you to anything from 0 days in jail to 365.
But judges frequently refer to forms produced by the Utah Sentencing Commission when deciding on a sentence. Understanding those forms is essential to giving an accurate prediction of a jail sentence.
For serious crimes or when the judge wants extra input, the judge will request a Pre-Sentence Investigation(PSI) from Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P). AP&P uses the same forms to make a recommendation on a jail or prison sentence.
The forms are somewhat complicated, but I will give an example to illustrate how they are used. It is always best to consult an experienced attorney to make sure that a sentencing prediction is accurate.
Sentencing Example: Drug Possession
Mary Jane is accused of selling marijuana in a drug-free-zone (within 1,000 feet of a public park). She has been convicted twice before for possessing marijuana, but she successfully completed probation both times. She pleads guilty to distribution of marijuana, a third degree felony, which was reduced from a first degree felony based on the drug-free-zone and her previous marijuana convictions. Mary Jane has a good job working as a waitress at a diner. She doesn’t make much money, but she supports her kids on her own. She is a single mother. According to the sentencing guidelines, how long could Mary Jane serve in jail or prison?
The maximum sentence for a third degree felony like the one Mary Jane is accused of is a sentence of 0-5 years in the Utah State Prison. If she got that sentence, the judge would send Mary Jane to the prison and the Board of Pardons and Parolewould decide when she would get out at a parole hearing.
However, Mary Jane is very unlikely to be sentenced to prison. To predict her likely jail sentence, we start with the “GeneralMatrix” form. Mary Jane does not have any prior felony convictions. She has two prior misdemeanor convictions, but no juvenile convictions. She was previously on probation, but she never had any problems on probation. She has no violent history and no weapons were used in this offense.
Mary Jane scores three points on the criminal history matrix which places her in the lowest criminal history category.
Next we turn to the “Jail As a Condition of Probation” matrix form. Distribution of marijuana is a 3rd Other along the top row because it is a third degree felony and it does not involve violence to a person (which would make it more serious) or simple possession of a drug (which would make it less serious). The roman numerals in the left column represent the criminal history category for the defendant and in this case we’ve already determined that Mary Jane falls in the least serious “Criminal History Category I.” A person with the lowest criminal history category who is convicted of a third degree felony “other” offense isrecommended to serve 60 days in jail.
There are three color codes on the “Jail As a Condition of Probation” form. Dark, partially shaded, and light. In the dark-shaded parts of the form, the Sentencing Commission is recommending prison. That means that if a person is charged with certain serious crimes or has extensive criminal history, the Sentencing Commission recommends that judges sentence defendants to prison. Defendants whose sentencing matrix falls in the light areas can hope that no jail will be imposed or that they will get an alternative sentence like ankle monitor or more intensive supervised probation. The partially shaded areas represent the Sentencing Commission’s recommendation that those people at least serve jail time and that the judge should at least consider prison time.
It is also important to consider the “Aggravating and Mitigating Circumstances” form, but that form is the mostsubjective of all the forms. In almost every case, the probation officer, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney can reasonably disagree on the aggravating and mitigating factors.
Judges’ sentencing decisions vary from judge to judge, court to court, and county to county. They are not required to follow the sentencing guidelines and some rarely do. But some judges follow the guidelines religiously and it is important for defense attorneys to understand the matrices and how to use them.