Guidelines on Felony Sentences

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice and does not reflect the opinions of Rand Mintzer, Attorney at Law.

Sentences awarded to people convicted of crimes are always in proportion to the crime. Some crimes such as petty crimes, damage to property and misdemeanors are not considered as serious as felony crimes. That is why the punishments or ‘sentences’ associated with misdemeanors are not as long or harsh as those associated with felonies.

In order to make sure that sentences are accorded to the seriousness of the crime and that people with similar criminal record get similar sentences, judges have sentencing guidelines. These guidelines have been prepared by the federal and state governments and allow courts to maintain the same standards of sentencing across cases with similar facts.


What are sentencing guidelines based on?

There are many factors that have been duly incorporated into sentencing guidelines all of which pertain to the particular charge in question. These guidelines take into consideration the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, as well as aggravating factors such as weapons used or injuries inflicted on any victims. Other factors that judges consider when sentencing involve non-violent predicate, violent predicate, persistent felony offender, youthful offender, juvenile offender and others.

Here, non-violent predicate is defined as the case in which the person has any previous non-violent felony conviction within the last decade. Violent predicate is if the person has any violent felony conviction on their record in the past decade. A persistent felony offender is a person who has two or more felony convictions on their record and may even get a life sentence in prison.


Criminal Sentences and Classes of Felonies

Due to the fact that felonies are considered serious offenses, all felonies, whether they are federal or state, come with a minimum sentence of one year in prison. Felonies, along with their sentences, are divided into the following classes which are denoted by alphabets where different alphabets signify varying severity for the crimes committed:

  • Class ‘E’ felonies: This class of felonies is the least serious of felonies and carries prison sentences of up to 4 years depending on whether the felony is classified as ‘violent’ or ‘non-violent’.
  • Class ‘D’ felonies: This class of felonies includes crimes more serious than class ‘E’ felonies and so the sentences associated with class ‘D’ felonies are harsher than those associated with class ‘E’ felonies. A non-violent class ‘D’ felony can come with a sentence of up to 7 years of probation with or without prison time. But a class ‘D’ violent felony comes with a sentence of 2 to 7 years imprisonment.
  • Class ‘C’ felonies: Crimes included in this class are associated with anywhere between 2 to 15 years of probation/prison time in the event the crime is a non-violent one. But if the crime is a class ‘C’ violent felony, then the sentence includes prison time of anywhere between 3.5 years to 15 years.
  • Class ‘B’ felonies: This class of felony crimes includes strict prison sentences. For non-violent ‘B’ class felonies, the prison sentence can be around 3 years but maximum up to 25 years. For violent ‘B’ class felonies, the prison sentence can be a minimum of 5 years and maximum of 25 years.
  • Class ‘A’ felonies: These crimes are perhaps the most serious kinds of crime with no option of parole. The sentences associated with these crimes can be eligible for death penalty as well. The typical prison sentence for class ‘A’ felonies is between 5 to 25 years but life sentences are also given out.

Most often judges use the federal guidelines manual as well as the sentencing guidelines table to give out a sentence that not only incorporates the current crime but also the offender’s past criminal record. The flexibility in this system allows the judge to make sure that for the same crime, a criminal with no previous record gets a less severe sentence than a criminal with a previous record.

States use similar classes and sentences associated for those classes of crimes. Some states may have more or fewer classes of crimes than stated above while others use numbers to denote these classes rather than alphabets.


How flexible are felony sentencing guidelines?

The point to understand when interpreting felony sentencing guidelines is that these are merely guidelines for judges to consult. Most of the time, judges will consider the specific facts that make each case unique in deciding the exact sentence handed. Many times, the judges may decide a final sentence that is completely outside the range suggested in the guideline as well. These deviations can depend on how the defense, particularly the defendant, behaves after the crime as well as during the trial.

There are a number of aggravating factors that can compel the judge to increase the final sentence beyond the maximum suggested by the guidelines. This can happen if for instance, a person died as a result of the crime or was permanently disabled. Aspects like abduction and the use of weapons during the crime also classify as aggravating factors.

On the other hand, there are also mitigating factors that can convince the judge to lower the final sentence even below the suggested minimum. These mitigating factors can include helping the law enforcement agency in identifying and apprehending other accused parties to justice. If the victim of the crime intentionally acted in a way to provoke the defendant to commit the crime, the judge can use this to justify lessening the severity of the sentence. Additionally, if the defendant was forced or threatened to commit the crime, the sentence can be decreased in this case as well.
If you are facing Criminal charges in Kansas, Attorney Paul D. Cramm can help you navigate your criminal case and strive to produce the results best in your interests.