The Alabama Sentencing Guidelines are upon us. On October 1, 2013, the Alabama Sentencing Commission, via the mandate of the Alabama Legislature, made the use of the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines for property crimes and drug offenses “presumtive.” By making the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines presumptive for property and drug cases, the Commission established that absent a mitigating or aggravating factor, the sentencing court should sentence a defendant in accordance with the calculations under the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines.
The advent of the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines have had a great impact on courts statewide. While some Alabama counties had already started using the voluntary sentencing guidelines, many had not. Now that the property and drug offense sentencing guidelines are presumtive, courts, defense attorneys, and prosecutors are having to quickly adapt to the guidelines. Alabama Sentencing Guidelines appeals will surely result as the courts and lawyers grow accustomed to the new guidelines.
The Alabama Sentencing Guidelines webpage hopes to provide timely and useful information regarding the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines themselves, court cases interpreting the guidelines, and other useful information regarding Alabama criminal sentencing.
The concept of the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines has its origins in 1998 when the Alabama Attorney General and the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court created a special committee to study sentencing policies and practices in Alabama. The committee met in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and reviewed Alabama’s criminal sentencing structure, as well as other state and federal sentencing models.
Ultimately, the committee recommended the creation of an Alabama Sentencing Commission for the purpose of acquiring, analyzing and reporting information to officials and state agencies involved in the sentencing process and making specific recommendations to reform Alabama’s criminal justice system, with primary emphasis on establishing truth-in-sentencing and eliminating unwarranted sentencing disparity.
The Alabama Sentencing Guidelines has its roots in legislation passed in 2000 by the Alabama Legislature which created the Alabama Sentencing Commission. Alabama Act 2000-596, effective May 17, 2000, creating a permanent Sentencing Commission as a separate state agency under the Alabama Supreme Court.
The legislation which created the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines gave the Alabama Sentencing Commission the responsibilities of collecting, preparing, and disseminating information on criminal sentencing in Alabama, making recommendations concerning laws about criminal offenses and sentencing, making recommendations about correctional and probation practices and the review and study of the overcrowding issues in Alabama jails and prisons.
Additionally, in 2000 the Alabama Legislature charged the Alabama Sentencing Commission with the task of reviewing Alabama’s existing sentence structure and practices, and with making recommendations to the Legislature and the Alabama Supreme Court regarding changes in the Alabama Criminal Code and criminal procedures.
The intent in creating the Alabama Sentencing Commission and the enactment of the Alabama Sentencing Guidelines was manyfold, and include the following goals:
- To ensure that sentencing practices promote public safety and recognize the impact of crime on victims by concentrating on the incarceration of violent, sex, and repeat offenders.
- To maintain meaningful judicial discretion allowing judges the flexibility to individualize sentences based on the unique circumstances of each case.
- To establish a system where the time served in prison will bear a close resemblance to the court imposed sentence.
- To provide for sentencing alternatives, other than incarceration in prison, for offenders who can best be supervised and rehabilitated through more cost-effective means while still protecting the public.
- To assist the executive branch in avoiding prison overcrowding and premature release of inmates.
- To ensure that there exists no unwarranted disparity with respect to sentencing of felony offenders.