HOW DO PRESUMPTIVE SENTENCING STANDARDS WORK?

Sentencing guidelines are widely used throughout the country when deciding how long to send a person to jail or prison. In Alabama, presumptive sentencing standards are used to establish what a defendant’s punishment should be. However, these are only guidelines; other statutes can require a judge to enforce different penalties than what is recommended by the sentencing standards. In a recent case out of Clay County, the Alabama Supreme Court decided whether a judge made an error by not sentencing a defendant according to the presumptive sentencing standards.


The defendant in the case plead guilty to possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of a controlled substance. He was originally accepted into a drug court program as a sentencing alternative. However, he was later kicked out for violating the conditions placed on him by the program. He was then required to report to a judge for sentencing.

The defendant’s attorney argued that because he was being sentenced to both crimes at the same time, it counts as one sentencing event. Because it is one sentencing event, only the presumptive sentence for the most serious crime should apply. Therefore, he should not get any jail time for either of the charges because the presumptive sentence for the more serious crime does not provide it.

The judge decided that the presumptive sentence for the more serious charge did not apply to the less serious charge and sentenced the defendant to a year in jail. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the presumptive sentencing standard should have applied to the less serious charge. The State then appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The Alabama Supreme Court looked at both the presumptive sentencing standard and other statutes that dealt with sentencing. Specifically, the court looked at a statute that allowed a judge to sentence a defendant to jail or prison when they had been kicked out of a drug-court program.

They decided that the statute overrode the sentencing standard to the extent of being able to sentence him to jail. However, the judge would still have to follow the presumptive sentencing standard when determining how long the defendant should stay in jail. Both parties agreed that the one-year sentence was consistent with the presumptive sentencing standards for the less serious offense. Therefore, the court decided, the trial court judge had the authority to sentence the defendant to a year in jail.

Sentencing issues can be very complicated. Sometimes even lawyers and judges disagree on how the sentencing laws should be interpreted. If people trained in law have differing views, then I cannot even imagine how much more difficult it would be for an unrepresented person to try to understand these laws.

If you are a criminal defendant, you need a knowledgeable attorney who is experienced in navigating these complicated issues. Birmingham Criminal Attorney Joseph A. Ingram of INGRAM LAW LLC will work hard to obtain the most favorable outcome for your case. Call him today at 205-236-3997 to schedule a free consultation.

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