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Big Changes in Virginia’s Criminal Sentencing Guidelines

Before a Virginia judge passes down a criminal sentence, they must consult a document called the sentencing guidelines, which shows them the past sentences and circumstances of cases for the purpose of sentencing similar cases. Because the circumstances of a crime change, these aren’t hard and fast rules that the judge has to follow, but rather a general guide to reference which will help them decide on an appropriate sentence. After the sentence is given, it is reviewed by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission anonymously to evaluate the decision which is then taken into consideration for future updates to the criminal sentencing guidelines. If a judge gives a sentence that falls outside of these guidelines, they must provide their reasoning for doing so. 

The goal of this system is to reduce extreme sentences in either direction and create an “average” sentence, which reduces the number of cases where a judge may give an unfair sentence due to discriminatory factors like race or religion. It also provides similar sentencing across all of Virginia, so citizens in different areas of the state are treated equally.

In July of 2021, the Virginia State Legislature announced that they believe the guidelines are well out of date, and so they determined that the Virginia Sentencing Commission should work on updating these guidelines. The deadline for these changes is July 1, 2022. It is difficult for anyone to guess what these changes will consist of. Some sentences will remain as they are, while others are changing drastically, such as robbery convictions. Currently, the guidelines for the sentencing of a robbery are determined by location. This is being changed to evaluate the sentencing based on the severity of violence and whether or not a firearm was used. Robberies that do not involve firearms are receiving decreased sentences, while those that resulted in bodily harm or death have received an increase in minimum sentencing, from a minimum of five years to twenty, and a maximum of life in prison.

While the decision of a sentence ultimately comes down to a judge, your attorney should be aware of sentencing guidelines to know what they should advocate for in your trial. You could run into significant trouble if, for example, your attorney was not aware that life in prison was a potential sentence for your burglary trial, and so they don’t take the necessary steps to argue down your sentencing. At Norton Pelt, PLC, we have carefully reviewed the revisions to Virginia’s sentencing guidelines as they’ve been released, so we’re always ready to take on your case. Contact us today and schedule your consultation to get started.

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