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An analysis of nearly 5,500 sentences delivered in D.C. Superior Court from 2004 to 2006 found that 89 percent of them fell “inside the box,” meaning they complied with voluntary sentencing guidelines established by the D.C. Sentencing Commission, according to the commission’s 2006 annual report, released last month. For prison terms, judges sentenced above the guidelines in 4 percent of the cases and below in 7 percent. The Sentencing Commission will ask the D.C. Council this year to make the sentencing guidelines a permanent part of the Superior Court, based on the success of the pilot program begun in 2004. The guidelines, which are revised each year to add new crimes or clarify scoring issues, have reduced disparate treatment for defendants facing similar charges with similar criminal histories, says Kim Hunt, the commission’s executive director. Judges receive the guideline sentencing range with the pre-sentence investigation report, and the commission follows up with judges to determine the reasons for sentences outside the guidelines. “There is a certain amount of peer pressure to follow the guidelines,” Hunt says. There is no penalty for judges who ignore the guidelines, however, and the Sentencing Commission doesn’t report the performance of individual judges as to whether their sentences are landing in or out of the box.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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