Alabama’s Criminal Sentencing Guidelines

Alabama made some significant changes to its criminal sentencing guidelines a few years ago, in an effort to address the overpopulated prison system.  For one thing, Alabama’s habitual offender laws, which historically led to long sentences after two or more prior felonies, will no longer mean nonviolent offenders will automatically spend decades in prison.

The presumptive nature of the new guidelines

The guidelines are considered to be “presumptive” which means they should be applied unless compelling reasons are found to deviate from them.  Regardless, because Alabama has the most overcrowded prison system in the country, something has to be done. Also, the goal of the sentencing commission was to eliminate as much unnecessary disparity in sentencing and provide more uniformity statewide.

Sentencing worksheets: the pros and cons

One of the key differences in the new guidelines is that judges in most cases are expected to use a predetermined worksheet to guide their decisions about whether prison will be ordered and, if so, how long the sentence will be.  Prosecutors and judges are not all happy about this aspect of the guidelines because they feel it removes the court’s discretion. However, judges are allowed to deviate from the guidelines if they can show a compelling reason to do so.

How the worksheets work

The worksheets which outline the defendant’s criminal history and prior sentences are generally to be filled out by prosecutors meaning more work for them.  These tally sheets record the defendant’s prior offenses, the nature of those offenses and prior sentences and then assigns points for the current offense and adds in any additional offenses to determine a length of sentence. Basically, more convictions lead to more points which equates to more jail time.

If you have questions regarding sentencing guidelines, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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